Whitmer is doing great in polls — but less great as time goes on

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Here’s some of my political memories from the runup to some significant elections. What do they have in common?

— 2002. A lot of Jennifer Granholm t-shirts. My apolitical mother was showing hers off at her Fourth of July party. Blew me away.

— 2008. The iconic Barack Obama “Hope” picture plastered, like, everywhere. The line leading into an Obama rally at a Michigan Avenue coffee shop was out the door and around the block.

— 2010. The April 15, 2009, Tea Party rally outside the Capitol. Thousands of people on the lawn, ringing loud cow bells. Is that a Gadsden flag someone is flying?

— 2016. Where did all of these Donald Trump lawn signs came from? Where are the Hillary Clinton signs?

— 2018. Gretchen Whitmer firing up the largest crowd I’ve ever seen on the Capitol lawn. It was at the January 2017 pink pussyhat rally.

The common denominator here is enthusiasm. The enthusiasm led to momentum. The momentum led to wins for Granholm in 2002, an Obama blow out in 2008. A huge Republican wave in 2010. A shocking Trump win in 2016 and a “pink wave” in 2018.

The book isn’t closed on 2020, I’m sure, but here are three memories so far.

— Riding my bike down Michigan Avenue on April 15 and seeing drivers gleefully locked up in traffic from the state Capitol to Foster Avenue, a few blocks from the East Lansing city line. An hour earlier, a cop at the Capitol told me it stretched all the way to Frandor.

— Looking down from the 3rd floor of the Capitol and watching about 150 people scream “LET US In” at the House chamber door.

— Standing in a cold rain last Thursday, watching a few hundred protesters yell at the Capitol about still being in the state lockdown. I ran home to dry off and grab some breakfast. An hour later, they were still there.

They call themselves patriots or pro-liberty. You can call them whatever you like. To me, it’s dedication and its passion, two things that history shows a winning campaign needs to succeed in a purple state like Michigan.

These liberty patriots (to make up a term) weren’t all Donald Trump supporters. In fact, they were the most politically unsophisticated hodge-podge I’ve seen since the Tea Party. The spelling on their signs was off. One speaker thought Mike Bishop was still in office.

One speaker made a point last week (as thunder crackled over my head) that he wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat, but “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In this case, Governor Whitmer’s emergency orders that put a hold on life had gone on too long. Republicans want to stop her so he said he’s with them.

If Justin Amash had been a serious Libertarian candidate from the get-go, maybe they would have rallied around him. He wasn’t. The Trump Unity Bridge was parked on Allegan Street. There you go.

I understand the public’s initial reaction to the pandemic was off the charts. Republicans and Democrats praised her swift, decisive action to shut down the state to control the spread of COVID-19.

Her slow re-engagement of the economy and the sniff of politics into the conversation has her numbers going in the other direction. Tuesday’s Washington Post-Ipsos poll has Whitmer’s coronavirus approval rating at an amazing 62%. It’s a great number. Trump’s is at 43%. Not good.

About a week ago, however, Whitmer’s University of Minnesota-Ipsos approval number was at 72%. Also, her 62% was tied for 37th among the nation’s 50 governors ... and only one had an approval rating below 50%. Every governor but the Georgia guy has a great number and by comparison, Whitmer’s isn’t all that special.

People are getting antsy. The New York Times reported last week that its heat map is showing that Michigan went from having 50% of its people staying at home during its peak compliance of the state-at-home order to 39% compliance last week, the largest drop off of any state in the country.

I understand the epidemiologists have Whitmer’s ear on when and how to reopen the state. At some point, though, her political hat needs to come on, too. The mark of a good leader is getting people to follow.

What if more people ignore the governor’s orders? Forget about vice president. How relevant will she be in helping Joe Biden win Michigan?

And could more Michiganders believe Whitmer only reopened the state because Trump put pressure on her?

I can think of a quite a few people who visited the Capitol recently who will be making that case.

(Kyle Melinn, of the Capitol news service MIRS, is at melinnky@gmail.com.)

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