‘Big Gretch’ discusses nickname, potential run for White House

A global pandemic, a 500-year flood, a school shooting, and no shortage of criticism for Michigan’s Democratic governor in her first term.
Updated: Oct. 24, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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SAGINAW, Mich. (WNEM) - A global pandemic, a 500-year flood, a school shooting, and no shortage of criticism for Michigan’s Democratic governor in her first term.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on a promise to fix Michigan’s roads, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, replace lead service lines across the state, and ban guns in schools.

But very little became reality. A strained relationship with her Republican-led legislature and her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic put her in the verbal crosshairs of then-President Donald Trump.

“The fact of the matter was lives on the lines and we did what we thought we had to do,” Whitmer said in an exclusive interview with TV5.

Whitmer wore Trump’s rhetoric like a badge of honor, printing “that woman from Michigan” on a shirt that she proudly wore in public.

“We’re fighting for really important things and we use a lot of different methods to communicate,” Whitmer said.

RELATED: Exclusive: Gov. Whitmer on strikes, pandemic, and the White House

The reaction to the governor’s pushback against the president may have been the key to unlocking her social media success.

“I’ve always thought humor is a really smart way to get people’s attention. It’s a lot better and a lot more constructive than anger and fear. That’s not who I am. I want to inspire, and I want to bring joy,” Whitmer said.

That inspiration led Detroit rapper Gmac Cash to give “that woman from Michigan” a new name.

“Big Gretch is kind of a persona that came out of the pandemic. It was an acknowledgment that has gone through some tough stuff, and this was a nickname that came about because people wanted to give me a little encouragement. And so it was never a nickname I thought about or would have picked, but it’s one that I really appreciate. And I think it’s there. It’s funny too,” Whitmer said.

Big Gretch quickly began reaching a much bigger audience. She will post TikTok videos based on the latest social media craze like working odd jobs around her state, warming up with the Detroit Lions, and even welcoming Beyonce to Michigan.

“I’ve got a wonderful, young, smart team that drives a lot of it. So, people give me credit for it. I share it because lord knows I’m not the creative genius behind it,” Whitmer said.

The brains behind it have given 52-year-old Whitmer hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, and Big Gretch’s TikTok videos have been liked nearly 4 million times.

“I think it’s important, you know. Young people have a stake in the outcome of elections. And so to engage with young people where they get their information, I do think it’s important,” Whitmer said.

Her social media success also proved important. Whitmer rode a blue wave to the ballot box for a second term, beating out Trump-endorsed Republicans. For the first time in 40 years, both Michigan’s Senate and House are led by Democrats, paving the way to many of Whitmer’s campaign promises.

“We were able to extend LGBTQ civil rights, get rid of efforts to undermine a woman’s right to make her own choice about her body. We’ve been able to have some common sense gun safety laws, and we’ve delivered a billion dollar tax benefit, tax break to the working people and retirees, and made record investments in public education,” Whitmer said.

Despite reaching an audience beyond Michigan, Whitmer said she doesn’t have any plans to run for president.

“I can tell you right now that there are no plans for me to do anything other than to fill out this term as governor. I’ve loved this state. I’ve never lived anywhere else, and I’ve never wanted to. So I’m really happy right here,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer continues to squash the idea of a presidential prospect, though her political aspirations are often the topic of discussion.

She recently created the “fight like hell” political action committee which allows her to be involved in national policy debates and fundraise for races next year on the federal level, ultimately elevating her own status within the party.

“I’m a co-chair of the Biden campaign. I think it’s really important at this moment in America that we’ve got a president who is going to fight to protect our democracy, not dismantle it, who’s going to fight to protect fundamental rights, and I believe in this president. I’m supporting him,” Whitmer said.

Whitmer is adamant her focus for the rest of her second and final term is on Michigan, and “that woman from Michigan” will work with whoever wins the White House. But she’s not afraid to call on Big Gretch.

“There’s a lot more good work to do, but I’m proud of what we have done and gonna stay focused on trying to find common ground and keep moving our state forward,” Whitmer said.

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