SOUTH BEND – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is emerging as one of the top prospects for the Democratic nomination for vice president, thanks to unintended help from President Trump and gun-toting protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building.

Trump’s belittling of the governor as “the woman in Michigan” and “Half Whitmer” brought greater national attention and focus on how her handling of the coronavirus gets higher poll approval than the president’s efforts.

In his anger toward her as a possible opponent on the Democratic ticket, Trump once ordered the coronavirus task force to decline to talk with her, the governor of a state with the third highest death toll from the virus.

Then protesters, including militia types armed with assault rifles and displaying symbols of racism, pushed their way into the Capitol building, intent on intimidation of legislators. Some tried to get on the House floor. Others displaying assault rifles stood in the Senate gallery.

It was the protesters, not Gov. Whitmer, who drew widespread ridicule.

The GOP leader of the Senate, who opposes Whitmer’s extension of stay-at-home orders to combat the pandemic, called the protesters “a bunch of jackasses.” Even Sean Hannity – Sean Hannity! – criticized “the militia look here and these long guns” as a “dangerous” show of force. He said it “puts our police at risk and, by the way, your message will never be heard, whoever you people are.”

The president was the exception. “These are very good people, but they’re angry,” he said. He urged Whitmer to “give a little” and “make a deal.”

Again, Trump enhanced Whitmer’s profile among Democrats as a good choice to be Joe Biden’s running mate and to take on the president’s record and style.    

Who knows what choice Biden will make? Biden himself most likely doesn’t know yet. Why would he decide before he needs to? He has just appointed a committee to vet prospects. He has said Whitmer is one of the prospects.

And he will pick a woman. Biden has made that clear.

Could it be Whitmer? Could there be a vice presidential debate between Michigan’s governor and Indiana’s former governor, Vice President Mike Pence? A battle at the state line?

Possible. But Whitmer is only one of the top prospects.

Top prospects to run with Biden also include Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren and former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams. Other possibilities would be more of a surprise.

There are many factors for Biden to consider. Presumably he wants someone he would regard as ready to step in if necessary to replace him and also someone he could work well with in the campaign and in the administration if the Democratic ticket wins.

He has to think politically, too, as he faces a tough race with Trump.

Would a senator with Washington experience be better than someone without a Washington connection?

Does he need an African American or does he already have the black vote solidly committed?

Could someone from a battleground state help him win the final Electoral College votes to prevail?

Should he go with someone more progressive in hopes of getting Bernie Sanders diehards to go along or would that hurt him in key Midwestern states that are more conservative?

In the vice-presidential debate, which prospect would look the best in a matchup with Pence?

Also, since the election will be a referendum on Trump, on whether he should have four more years as president, is there a Democratic running mate who would be most likely to send the president off his message, off his game, off on a destructive tweet storm? That’s one area where Whitmer seems now to have an edge. The president’s attacks on her, though he wants to knock her down, are one of the reasons her stock is going up. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.