The Michigan Republican Party released an ad this week discouraging Michiganders from reelecting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) after a recent audit report revealed the Whitmer administration had severely underreported the number of nursing home residents who had died from coronavirus.
The state GOP said the ad marks the earliest digital or broadcast ad purchase that the organization has ever made to target an incumbent, according to Fox News, which first reported on the ad’s release.
“Michigan can’t afford 4 more years,” reads a caption at the opening of the minute-long video rebuke, as it features Whitmer speaking about her coronavirus policies saving “a lot of lives in our nursing homes.”
Whitmer drew significant blowback for her management of nursing home policies in the midst of the pandemic after she directed the facilities, which housed vulnerable seniors, to accept discharged coronavirus-positive hospital patients. The policy was similar to that of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), whose administration was later caught in a scandal in which it knowingly concealed nursing home death data.
In the highly anticipated audit report, made public this month, the Michigan Auditor General Office said it “updated its reconciliation” of coronavirus deaths linked to nursing homes, or “long-term care facilities,” and found the number of deaths as of July 2, 2021, was 42 percent higher than what the Whitmer administration had reported. The audit specified a total of 8,061 deaths compared with the previous count of 5,675, which had been tabulated using the state’s self-reporting method.
Whitmer has vigorously defended her nursing home policy, claiming in a CNN interview last year that it “saved a lot of lives” and that she followed “federal requirements every step of the way.” In anticipation of the audit’s public release, Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services disputed its findings, preemptively arguing to the Detroit News that “almost half” of the audit’s new deaths came from facilities “not subject to state reporting requirements.”
Amid the audit causing heightened criticism of Whitmer, Auditor General Doug Ringler also clarified that he did not feel “underreport” was a “fair” term to use against the administration because his office had accounted for certain facilities that Whitmer’s administration had not included in its tracking process. He said the discrepancy amounted to a “difference” in reporting rather than an intentional “underreporting.”
The new data compounded the already-existing disapproval, primarily from Republicans, over Whitmer’s nursing home policy. State Sen. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawson) has described the policy as “inexplicable” and “reckless,” while one Republican group, Michigan Rising Action, called Whitmer “Cuomo of the Midwest” because of it.
Michigan-based journalist Charlie LeDuff, who has determinedly been reporting on the nursing home developments, posted a side-by-side photo of Whitmer and Cuomo upon learning of the audit findings.
BREAKING — Covid Deaths in Michigan's long-term care facilities are 42% higher than the Whitmer Administration admited, according prelim. report by state Auditor General.
This puts Whitmer's Michigan on par with Cuomo's New York in terms of blurring the truth about LTCFs.
— Charlie LeDuff (@Charlieleduff) January 13, 2022
Michigan GOP Communications Director Gustavo Portela wrote of the audit, “Michigan’s Andrew Cuomo — @gretchenwhitmer — should be held accountable for this.”
— Gustavo Portela (@gusportela) January 14, 2022
The Michigan GOP’s latest ad campaign also touches on the topics of Whitmer violating her own coronavirus orders, the city of Benton’s lead water crisis, and Michigan’s unemployment rate.
The state party said, according to Fox News’s report, that it was spending five figures this week promoting the video ad online but that it would increase its spending to six figures in the coming weeks for both TV and digital advertising.