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Should Biden Pick A Governor As His Running Mate?

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Joe Biden says he'll announce his running mate the first week in August. Two governors are reportedly on the shortlist - Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico. Governors have played an outsized role in the handling of the pandemic, which could make them an appealing choice. NPR's Sam Gringlas reports.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Rewind a few months to March of this year. Coronavirus cases were just starting to spike. And around this time, President Trump had a conference call with the nation's governors. Governor Whitmer said Trump told them to find their own supplies of ventilators. Here she is on MSNBC.

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GRETCHEN WHITMER: ...Hear the leader of the federal government tell us to work around the federal government 'cause it's too - too slow is just - it's kind of mind-boggling, to be honest.

GRINGLAS: Trump fired back on Twitter, calling her half-wit Whitmer. And as deaths in Michigan mounted, he said he told Vice President Pence to ignore governors who don't show enough appreciation.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Don't call the governor of Washington. You're wasting your time with him. Don't call the woman in Michigan.

GRINGLAS: The back-and-forth thrust Whitmer into the national spotlight, a former Michigan Senate minority leader who'd been governor just over a year. It also previewed a theme of this pandemic - a debate over who should take the lead in managing the crisis.

In New Mexico, Governor Lujan Grisham issued early stay-at-home orders. She served as New Mexico's health secretary before going to Congress and then running for governor in 2018. She told The Washington Post the lack of national strategy surprised her.

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MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: In my wildest dreams, I would not be spending my own specific time finding supplies and the right manufacturers and then chasing PPE.

GRINGLAS: The dynamic was unprecedented, says Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor who served as secretary of Health and Human Services under President Obama.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: I think all governors found themselves in a very unique position with a federal government who didn't want responsibility. So over and over again, I think governors have stepped into this vacuum.

GRINGLAS: Seeking higher office while managing the pandemic response could prove politically and practically challenging. But former Michigan governor Jim Blanchard says this is the perfect moment to put a governor on Biden's ticket. Blanchard is close with the Biden campaign and has advised several VP searches.

JIM BLANCHARD: You know, until the virus, governors were in the shadows of government. It's been the senators who get the attention because they're on all the cable shows every night.

GRINGLAS: But Blanchard says that's changed. He says Whitmer and many governors' calm under fire has projected a stark contrast with President Trump.

BLANCHARD: It shows they're doing things, they're managing things, they care. They're taking action. They're not sitting around abdicating responsibility and finding someone to blame.

GRINGLAS: Governors are also confronting protests over police brutality and racial injustice. That's amplified calls for Biden to pick a Black woman. Shauna Ryder Diggs, a University of Michigan regent who's active in Democratic politics, says Whitmer, who's white, responded to the protests with empathy.

SHAUNA RYDER DIGGS: I'm an African American woman, and I know that Governor Whitmer, she's able to have honest conversations on race. Those interpersonal relationships that she's able to have with all people then allows her to feel that pain and then understand what the protests were really about.

GRINGLAS: In battleground Michigan, Trump's approval rating for handling the coronavirus is underwater. Whitmer's has remained high despite protests and lawsuits over social distancing orders. Whitmer flipped the governor's mansion blue in 2018, and some Democrats think she could help bring home Michigan and other blue wall states.

Lujan Grisham could attract another bloc of voters. She's the first Democratic Latina governor in the country.

GABRIEL SANCHEZ: This is also an opportunity not just to address 2020 but the long term.

GRINGLAS: That's Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico professor and principal at the research group Latino Decisions.

SANCHEZ: Particularly as we think about Texas being in play for the first time in my lifetime, having a Latino on the ticket might solidify Texas flipping not only soon but also potentially for the long term.

GRINGLAS: For former Michigan governor Jim Blanchard, the case for picking a governor is simple - good government is good politics. And lately, Blanchard says, many governors have been leading the way.

Sam Gringlas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.