With the departure of Gretchen Whitmer, the remaining possibilities are not impressive

That humongous thud you heard coming out of the Democratic camp was from the departure of Gretchen Whitmer from the race for governor. Now what? The race is wide open and not looking that impressive either. Everyone had Ms. Whitmer teed up to tee-off on Rick Snyder, who will be more vulnerable than the last time he ran. For many Democrats, the East Lansing Democrat was the best chance to send him back to Ann Arbor. She did have a lot going for her. Her daddy, who years ago had the bug to run but never did, could have opened some m-o-n-e-y doors. As the former head of Blue Cross Blue Shield, his millionaire friends could have opened their checkbook for his offspring. Ms. Whitmer had extensive legislative experience, a law degree and a sharp mind, passion and a moderate Milliken-like attitude about working with the other side. And for the past two years, she’s been warming up to taking on Mr. Snyder as he moved more and more away from the sensible center to the far right. Her media savvy was obvious, her sound bites were good, her sense of humor and robust laugh were infectious, and you could easily see her in a debate with the incumbent giving him a run for his life, assuming he agreed to give her a debate at all. She was not afraid of controversy. Recall that she was the one calling for a grand jury probe into the top GOP leader in the Michigan House. But on the other hand she tried to walk back a story involving the president and federal aide to Michigan when a conservative talk show host called her on it. She looked wobbly. The Republicans would have drawn a parallel between the former first female governor and the would-be second female governor. “Didn’t we try that once before and how’d that work out?” you could hear the ads trying to link Jennifer Granholm to Ms. Whitmer. Of course the spots would have been labeled sexist by the women’s groups, but when has that stopped the Republican Party in recent times? On Thursday, Ms. Whitmer put all that to rest choosing to be a good mom to her young daughters instead running for governor. Now that she’s off the field, the Democratic on-deck circle lacks a Miguel Cabrera. There’s Virg Benero. He was ready to back Whitmer. He’s still angry but has re-tread status having lost to Mr. Snyder in 2010. Former Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has tons of political ambition, so put her on the list. Likewise there is Congressperson Gary Peters who would rather be a U.S. Senator if frumpy-suited incumbent Carl Levin ever retires. Former Congressperson Mark Schauer is making noises that he might run, but not everybody is fond of him. Hardly unusual in politics. John Austin, from the think-tank world, has expressed some interest but his sound bites are way too long, but then if you pick an intellectual, that’s what you get. And the guy who says he wants to be mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, may be implored to consider the state’s top job. And while you’re at it, toss in the name of Mark Bernstein. Surly you’ve seen him on TV with his trial lawyer daddy. But it’s early with miles to go, and one of the above or someone not on the screen could catch fire as Democrats are not tossing in the towel just because the Divine Ms. W. took a hike. We’ll know the race is really under way when Geoffrey Feiger hints he might run. You know it’s only a matter of time boys and girls.
Tim Skubick is Michigan’s Senior Capitol correspondent and has anchored the weekly public TV series Off the Record since 1972. He also covers the Capitol and politics for WLNS-TV6 in Lansing.