Few other states outside the northeast have been as hard hit by the virus as Michigan, which recorded 2,226 deaths as of Friday, and where the intersection of race, presidential politics and Ms. Whitmer’s vice-presidential prospects have turned the perennial battleground into a political tinderbox.
With the outbreak concentrated in heavily black and Democratic Detroit, the virus was already threatening to exacerbate the widening political divide between rural and urban Michigan. For decades, Democrats enjoyed strength with working-class whites in rural Michigan. But as in much of the country, those voters have drifted to the G.O.P. over the last decade. Now, even when Democrats win statewide, as they did when Ms. Whitmer succeeded a Republican in 2018, they do so by piling up large margins in metropolitan areas and losing many of the less-populated counties where they once were strong.
And the images of nearly all-white protesters demanding the governor relax restrictions while hoisting Trump signs and Confederate battle flags, as the virus disproportionately impacts Michigan’s black residents, will only further cleave the state.
Less noticed is another flash point. A number of white Michiganders — many of them affluent but some firmly in the middle-class — have summer homes “up north,” as the sprawling upper tier of the state’s lower peninsula is called. Ms. Whitmer’s order that people not travel between their residences — meant to protect rural towns and rural hospitals from being overwhelmed with the virus — has particularly inflamed those state residents eager to get to their cottages.
Of course, for the heavily black work force in and around Detroit that can’t retreat to a vacation home, such an inconvenience is trifling by comparison. Many of these workers plays critical roles running the region’s vitally needed grocery stores, pharmacies and busses.
“Black people’s lives haven’t changed in many ways because everyday was always a grind to survive,” said Adam Hollier, a state senator from Detroit, adding that “grocery store clerk, home health care, bus drivers, sanitation, custodial staff — the people who are often deemed most replaceable are the ones we actually can’t live without.”
Susan Beachy contributed research.