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Axios Detroit

Sizing up Whitmer's 2026 replacement

By Samuel Robinson,

24 days ago

Speculation reignited over potential successors to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after Pete Buttigieg appeared open to the idea at an Axios event last week.

Why it matters: Michigan has elected two Republicans and two Democrats since the turn of the century. Should another Democrat succeed the term-limited Whitmer, Democrats would maintain their longest hold on the governor's office since the 1960s.

  • Taking back the governor's office will be instrumental if Republicans want to undo Democratic gains made by the party's first trifecta in almost 40 years.

The intrigue: There are several officeholders whose names have been floated as possible Democratic primary candidates in 2026: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan , Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson , Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Buttigieg, the U.S. transportation secretary and former presidential candidate who moved from Indiana to Traverse City in 2022.

The other side: While the Democratic side is off to the races, the state of the Republican side remains foggy.

Here's where the speculative Democratic candidates stand:

Duggan hasn't yet decided whether to run for a fourth mayoral term, but he didn't say no to a gubernatorial bid when the Detroit News asked this month.

Benson, who hinted at a run this year , earned national praise for her work administering Michigan's 2020 election amid threats and false claims of fraud by former President Trump and his supporters.

Gilchrist needs to build his name recognition statewide, Democratic strategists tell Axios. But the Detroit native, known for his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, is frequently mentioned alongside Benson and Duggan as a Democrat who might throw his hat in the ring.

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks of Grand Rapids told WKAR's Off The Record , "I'll give it some thought," when asked last year how "Governor Brinks" sounds.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson , who made national headlines in 2020 for joining Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Flint, also expressed interest in the race in an interview with Michigan Advance this year.

What we're watching: "It's going to be a bloodbath," longtime Detroit political strategist Adolph Mongo tells Axios.

  • "[Buttigieg's] no Michigan man but he could raise money. So will Duggan, plus he's got an army of people to pull from Detroit and other parts of the state."
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