Wheeler Smith leaves race

The herd is thinning:

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democratic state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith said Monday she is withdrawing from the race to become Michigan’s next governor.

Her departure leaves Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and House Speaker Andy Dillon as the only Democrats on track for the Democratic primary ballot in August. Five candidates are expected on the Republican primary ballot.

Smith, a longtime state lawmaker from Salem Township in Washtenaw County, was perhaps the most liberal candidate in the race to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. She had been lagging behind Dillon, the most moderate of the Democratic candidates, and Bernero in polls.

"I love Michigan and believe that I can help this state in its time of crisis," Smith said in a statement. "But this race is about more than me. Democrats need to unify behind a candidate and I have come to believe that my continued candidacy would only serve to divide us further. … Like many people, I share the concern of splitting the progressive vote and ending up with a candidate that does not represent core Democratic values."

Smith, 68, was one of the first entrants in the governor’s race, launching her campaign last June.

Smith’s campaign said it had been "well on a path" to gathering the 15,000 signatures needed to make the governor’s ballot. The deadline for filing is Tuesday.

Smith can’t run for a seat in the Michigan House again because of the state’s term limits law.

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