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Michigan Gets Attention From Presidential Candidates Biden, Trump

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you had to pick one region that decided the 2016 election, it is likely the industrial Midwest. To judge by the travel of the candidates and their surrogates, that is the case again in 2020. Donald Trump and Joe Biden both visited Wisconsin last week. Donald Trump Jr. and Jill Biden are in Minnesota today. Also, today Joe Biden visits Michigan, which went to Trump by just over 10,000 votes last time. The president visits the state tomorrow.

Gretchen Whitmer is the Democratic governor of Michigan, and she's on the line. Governor, welcome back to NPR.

GRETCHEN WHITMER: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I wonder if we can get a status report on your state, as Joe Biden arrives today. I know the national economy has been improving, maybe we'd say from catastrophic to bad. How about Michigan's economy the last month or two?

WHITMER: Well, you know, we have seen Michiganders crush our COVID-19 numbers, and we've saved thousands of lives in the process. We led early on with a mask mandate and took aggressive steps, and because of that I think we are in a much stronger position than most of the nation. Our positivity rates are 40th in the nation, which is a good place to be, especially for the 10th-largest state. And 87% of our economy has reengaged and to the tune of where we were last March, before COVID hit.

So we're in a good position, but we recognize it's tenuous. If we drop our guard, if we take things for granted, we could very quickly see things heat up, and that's why it's so important that we continue to do what we're doing and follow the science and make decisions to save lives and keep this economy engaged.

INSKEEP: Yeah, we've been thinking about the millions of people who are out of work or who have lost some kind of income. We have an NPR survey - and this is national, not Michigan specific, but I'm sure it applies to Michigan - about half of people have suffered serious financial damage. We're months in. People have depleted their savings. And we heard yesterday from Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who is concerned about people being evicted. Let's listen to some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEROME POWELL: We don't - and we shouldn't allow them, in my view - as a country, we shouldn't let those people lose everything they have and have to move out or be evicted and move in with family. So I do think we ought to do everything we can as a country to keep those people - I won't say make them whole, but I would say to look out for them. It could have significant macroeconomic effects over time, but it's also just the right thing to do.

INSKEEP: Now, Gov. Whitmer, I know the CDC has temporarily halted evictions, but that's temporary, and the payments are still piling up. What can you do?

WHITMER: Well, I think this is why the vacuum in Washington, D.C., in terms of leadership on a national strategy has been so painful for so many Americans. The fact of the matter is we are six months in and there's still no national strategy around testing or procurement of PPE and no national strategy around a mask mandate. We have to remember, this is a virus that doesn't care about party line or state line or county line, for that matter.

The nation's governors have stepped up into this vacuum to lead where we can, but at the end of the day, we need leadership in Washington, D.C., that has a strategy around COVID and a strategy to rebuild our economy back better. And I think that's why it's so important that people pay attention and see what Joe Biden offers because that's the kind of leadership we need now more than ever.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that - the specific problem of people months behind on the mortgage, months behind on the rent. What are you doing? And what do you want Joe Biden to do?

WHITMER: So we took some actions as a state to protect people and keep them in their homes. We know that the last thing we want people to worry about in the midst of this global pandemic is where they're going to live. We want people to stay home because it's safer to stay home. This fourth supplemental that Mitch McConnell has stood in the way of getting done, that the White House has not been able to push over the finish line, is critical support for public health, public safety and public education - arguably, the three most important things we need to do in the midst of this global pandemic.

If Washington can't get this done, it's going to be on Joe Biden to start delivering on Day 1 after this election. And that's why it's so important that everyone votes, so important everyone masks up, and it's really important everyone gets a flu shot this year.

INSKEEP: Are people going to have some way - should people have some way to pay the back rent if they're not in a position to do so?

WHITMER: Absolutely, and I think that's why it's important for our federal government to step into this void. It's not enough to simply say, you can't be evicted; they need to step up with the kind of support that it's going to take to keep people in their homes and to keep them from accruing all of these bills that they can't pay after the first of the year. You know, something that isn't followed by real action to support people isn't really going to solve the problem, and that's what we've seen so far out of the federal government.

INSKEEP: Governor, if I think about Trump's 2016 win in Michigan, we can see it perhaps as an absence of votes. It's not that the Republican vote went up so much; the Democratic vote went down, and in particular, it's believed the Black vote especially declined. What is the Biden campaign doing to be sure that enough African Americans show up?

WHITMER: Now, you're making a really astute point, Steve. In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by less than 11,000 votes. Two years later, I won the governor's race by over 400,000 votes. It really is about voter engagement and enthusiasm, and I do believe that the Biden-Harris ticket brings that and, also, a focus on solving the fundamentals that Americans and Michiganders in particular are confronting every day.

Around our kitchen tables, we're worried about the health of our people. We're worried about getting back to work and staying back at work safely. And that's why a real strategy around COVID and economic reengagement that creates opportunity and has a focus on good American jobs is what we need more than ever, and that's the centerpiece of the Biden-Harris agenda.

INSKEEP: Of course, you have to be realistic about the opposition, and the president does visit tomorrow. When you look around, do you see his base voters energized in Michigan and ready to show up for him?

WHITMER: I do believe that there is some enthusiasm here for President Trump, and that's why I've reminded people since Day 1 that the road to the White House goes through the state of Michigan. No one should take this state for granted. We are seeing poll numbers tighten up, and that's predictable. I knew that would happen. But I do think that it's really important that the candidates are here and, in particular, that Joe Biden is ensuring that people understand what his plan is because I know it resonates with Michiganders.

INSKEEP: Governor, thanks for the time. I really appreciate it.

WHITMER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Gretchen Whitmer is the Democratic governor of Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.