Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used her party's response to President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday to appeal to working-class voters, saying Democrats are focusing on making health care more affordable and addressing other pocket-book issues.
"It's pretty simple. Democrats are trying to make your health care better. Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away," said Whitmer, whose state Trump captured narrowly in 2016 by appealing to lower-earning workers.
Democrats captured House control in 2018 by emphasizing efforts by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law. Democrats say they intend to concentrate on health care in this year's campaign as well, including opposing an administration-backed federal lawsuit aimed at declaring Obama's statute unconstitutional.
Trump's impeachment has dominated Washington since the fall and in a remarkable confluence of events, the GOP-run Senate was set to acquit him Wednesday, less than 24 hours after his address. Whitmer did not mention impeachment in the excerpts of her remarks that Democrats provided beforehand, preferring instead to hone in on people's economic well-being.
"It doesn't matter what the president says about the stock market," said Whitmer, whose name has surfaced as a potential vice presidential nominee. "What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don't have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans, or prescription drugs."
Michigan hadn't voted for the GOP presidential candidate since 1988. Trump used narrow victories there and in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to unexpectedly win the 2016 election, and Democrats are determined to shore up their support in the Midwest, including among white working-class voters who abandoned them.
"American workers are hurting," Whitmer said, listing those states. "All over the country. Wages have stagnated, while CEO pay has skyrocketed."
Democrats' selection of Whitmer, 48, also underscored their desire to reach out to women. Recent polling and elections have shown that Trump is particularly unpopular with women, and their votes will be crucial if the party is to perform strongly in moderate suburban areas.
Whitmer, speaking at East Lansing High School, which her daughters attend, described the ordeal of caring for her infant daughter and dying mother years ago.
"I was up all night with a baby and during the day, I had to fight my mom's insurance company when they wrongly denied her coverage for chemotherapy," she said. "It was hard. It exposed the harsh realities of our workplaces, our health care system, and our child care system."
In Democrats' Spanish-language response, freshman Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar also spoke of health care and workers' struggles to get by.
But in English language excerpts, she also described last August's mass killing in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, by a shooter who she said "used hateful language like the very words used by President Trump to describe immigrants and Latinos."
Escobar also touched on Trump's impeachment, saying that he'd jeopardized the next election and threatened national security with his efforts to pressure Ukraine, an ally fighting Russian-backed insurgents, to produce damaging information on political rival Joe Biden.
"We Democrats will continue to fight for truth and for what is right. No one is above the law," Escobar said.