February 24, 2016
Michigan doesn’t vote until March 8. We still have to get through Super Tuesday, but assuming Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton do not virtually sweep the March 1 contests, this primary is more important than any of those.
Even if Hillary and The Donald are presumptive nominees at this point, Michigan is shaping up as more of a fall battlefield than we’ve grown used to. Once a Republican bulwark, the state shifted to the Democrats during the Eisenhower years.
Though it elects semi-moderate GOP governors with regularity, along with an occasional senator, Republican presidential candidates normally only win Michigan when they win at least a semi-landslide election. George H.W. Bush in 1988 is the last victor.
Every four years, we hear about how the GOP is going to put Michigan and Pennsylvania (also in the Democrats column from 1992 forward) in play, only to see the Democrats win it, always with a better margin than their national percentage.
Even if Marco Rubio is the nominee, Republicans are going to struggle to pick up enough Latino votes. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try as hard as they can, but assuming they will reach the 37-41% level they would need based on the other breakdowns from 2012 is a stretch.
Rolling up the largest possible margin with older white voters and reaching out to African Americans is the best way to balance that out and provide at least a backup path to enough votes. Michigan has both in abundance.
Many of the issues we are hearing about in the campaign directly relate to things happening in Michigan. When Trump talks about losing jobs to Mexico, China, Japan, Vietnam, etc., he’s talking about Michigan.
When Bernie Sanders talks about the insanely high unemployment rate for younger African Americans, he’s talking about Michigan. When John Kasich talks about the importance of broad-based economic growth to give people personal dignity, he’s talking about Michigan.
Hillary is using Flint as an example of Republicans not caring about people, blaming the GOP governor for the crisis, and saying this wouldn’t have happened if Flint was a well-off white suburb.
Even if you think she’s exploiting the situation for political gain (being able to blame Republicans and one up Bernie is irresistible), the gap between wealthy majority white Detroit area suburbs and the majority black urban core is jarring.
There’s plenty of diversity beyond that. The Detroit metro area is home to the largest and longest established Muslim community in America. The Upper Peninsula is like an entirely different state. Geographically it’s connected to Wisconsin, not the rest of Michigan.
Small and midsized cities like Grand Rapids and Battle Creek have their own industrial core, their own economic transition issues. There’s plenty to talk about here, and it appears many of the candidates will.
Trump wants a big win to further his domination of the GOP field. He wants to show he can bring Republicans their first win in Michigan since the 80s. Kasich is putting down a marker in his neighboring state.
Ted Cruz isn’t a favorite there, but Rick Santorum did very well in 2012, almost defeating Mitt Romney in the state of his birth and father’s governorship. Santorum had a more populist message than Cruz, but it shows there is a market for social conservatism.
Ben Carson grew up in Detroit and is doing better in Michigan polling than elsewhere, though still trailing the leaders. It’s too soon to determine if he’s going to last until March 8, but he could wind up being a small factor.
With Kasich around, it looks like Marco Rubio will struggle. Each of his competitors have more of a local angle. While Rubio isn’t a terrible fit, his standing there hearkens back to a few weeks ago before the field narrowed. Some opportunity, but giving up support to more targeted opponents.
On the Democratic side, it’s a key test of strength for Bernie. Hillary will almost certainly have a noticeable earned delegate lead after Super Tuesday. A big day on March 15 lurks just over the horizon. Each party has a debate planed, the Democrats in Flint.
In order to get nominated, Sanders has to make some progress with African Americans. He can get away with Hillary having a majority of support, but Bernie needs to narrow it. Michigan is his best chance to use his existing economic message to connect with black voters.
For demographic reasons going forward and momentum reasons in the short term, he really needs a win. Hillary knows this and has prepared for the showdown. If he wants to make up for Nevada, this is the place.
Super Tuesday could serve as a roadblock if Clinton and Trump do well enough, but otherwise look to Michigan as the pivot point for the rest of the nomination contest. The state economy peaked 50+ years ago, and since then Michiganders have dealt with issues other Americans would later face.
Whether you want to Make America Great Again, create a political evolution, build on the Obama years, make the 21st Century the Next American Century, or one of the other candidate themes of the season, Michigan is where their rhetoric hits the road.