McCain Pickup Option 1: Michigan

By now, everyone has heard reason after reason why the Democrats should win the White House and increase their majorities in Congress this year. Bush is unpopular. Iraq is unpopular. Gas prices are high. The economy is shaky. The natural political pendulum has swung right for the past 6 or 7 years and is now lurching back towards the left. Barack Obama is raising boatloads of money. John McCain is not a gifted political speaker. Most of the electorate thinks the nation is on the wrong track. And the Democrats are seeing their registration numbers climb while the Republicans' numbers are stagnant or falling.

However, John McCain can still win the White House. And a McCain victory seems to be the best shot Republicans have of avoiding a complete shutout in November. In terms of the electoral map, it is true that he will be on defense more than offense, contrary to Barack Obama. However, McCain's pickup opportunities are so significant that if he were to win just one of these states, it would probably drive a stake through the heart of Obama's presidential bid. Over the next few days, The 7-10 will examine a few of these key states. The first post in this series will deal with Michigan, which is worth 17 electoral votes.

Michigan is a light blue Democratic state that is home to a lot of blue collar voters, as well as a lot of gun owners and sportsmen. However, there is also a large labor population due to the automobile and steel industries located there. The largest city in the state, Detroit, is overwhelmingly Black and Democratic. Also, the Upper Midwest is generally less conservative than the South. This explains why Michigan has become something like the New Jersey of the Midwest in that polls suggest Republicans could make a good run at the state, but can never quite pull it out. So it would seem that this state would be a relatively safe bet for Democrats.

This year might be different, however. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry were all able to win Michigan. Barack Obama is certainly a stronger candidate than John Kerry, and the national electoral climate is more favorable for Democrats than it was in 2004, but he might have a more difficult time carrying the state this time. This year, a toxic combination of incumbency, race, and the ghost of the primary season is threatening to flip this state red.

The Republican brand may be tarnished nationally, but the Democratic brand is the one taking a hit in Michigan. Beleaguered by a struggling automobile industry, the state's economy is suffering. Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm's popularity has plummeted as plants close and factory workers get laid off. Democrats also occupy both Senate seats and control the state House of Representatives. So they cannot blame Republicans for the mess the state is in.

This is one reason why Mitt Romney is receiving so much buzz as McCain's running mate. In addition to his family's personal connection to the state, his economic competence will likely be well received. The economy is the main issue in Michigan right now, and voters there might have soured enough on Democratic governance of the state and Detroit to give a McCain-Romney ticket Republicans' best chance in 20 years to pluck it from the Democratic column.

The issue of race further complicates things. The largest city in Michigan is Detroit, governed by Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick is hugely unpopular because of his embarrassing legal woes stemming from lying under oath about extra-marital affairs. The city has high crime and unemployment rates and has led many Whites to leave the city proper and relocate to the suburbs. Thus, there is a bit of racial polarization. Blacks will overwhelmingly vote for Barack Obama. But what about suburban Whites who may lean Democratic philosophically, but be more inclined to try something new? Obama's path to victory depends heavily on running up the score in Detroit and holding down his losses elsewhere. If White suburbanites in Wayne County are turned off from Obama because of Kilpatrick, he could be in serious trouble.

Aside from the tarnished Democratic brand and the possibly racialized electorate, the fact that Michigan is close to being a toss-up is also an unintended consequence of the wrangling between the state and national Democratic parties during the primary season. Everybody remembers that Michigan violated party rules by scheduling its primary before it was authorized to do so. As a result, Barack Obama removed his name from the ballot and did not campaign heavily there. John McCain, on the other hand, was locked in a close race against former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Thus, McCain spent a lot of time running ads and holding campaign events across the state. And this is all on top of the reservoir of goodwill he had developed from his 2000 campaign when he won the state's primary.

In light of all these bad breaks for Barack Obama, John McCain is right to concentrate so heavily on this state. Its 17 electoral votes are nothing to sneeze at because if Obama loses Michigan, he will have to offset it by winning Ohio or sweeping the Southwestern trio of Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. But Ohio is not guaranteed and the extent to which the Southwest is turning blue is not yet fully known.

Much has been said about Barack Obama's ability to play in Ohio, Indiana, Georgia Virginia, the Rockies, and the Southwest. But he would be wise to make holding Michigan his first priority because Obama's path to 270 would become a lot more dangerous if he had to cobble together victories in Montana, North Dakota, and the Southwest. His chances of winning Michigan are still at least 50-50, but he is running in a headwind created by the likes of the governor, the state legislature, Detroit's mayor, and the Michigan Democratic Party.

Of course, If Obama is able to hold it, John McCain will be forced to defend all the other Bush states if he wants to win the White House because his pickup opportunities are few and far between. But because New Mexico and Iowa are looking bluer by the day, McCain will be forced to find a pickup opportunity elsewhere. However, McCain's task of winning just one state may be easier than Obama's task of winning three. And for that reason, Michigan looks to be one of this year's hottest contests.

Next installment: Pennsylvania

3 comment(s):

S.W. Anderson said...

A cogent analysis,AP, but allow me to pick a nit or two.

First, the U.S. economy isn't just shaky. It is in, to use Bush 41's immortal phrase, deep doo-doo. And the outlook going forward is for it to get much worse before it gets better.

All Michiganders, suburbanites included, should realize Gov. Granholm isn't the cause of job and industry losses. That's like blaming the doctor for Johnny's skinned knee. The whole state (and country) would be better off if it weren't for no-holds-barred free trade and globalization, and corporate/Republican success in union busting.

Obama's success or failure in Michigan rests on his willingness and ability to drive this message home:

Democrats aren't responsible for what ails this state and Republicans aren't the cure. Look at what they've done to the nation's finances and economy. It's a horror story that never had to happen, turning a $600 billion surplus into more debt than all previous administrations combined.

You have every right to vote against your own best interests if you want to, electing McCain and other Republicans, signing up for four more years of Bush-style misleadership -- but not one good, rational reason to do so.

Michigan's problems aren't Michigan's alone. That's why we need a new team in Washington, in the White House and in Congress, to set a new course for this state and 49 others.

Anthony Palmer said...


You raise a very good point about the Michigan economy. When you "let the free market decide" and keep the government out of business too much, you end up with...well, Michigan. These companies shouldn't need the government to tell them to increase mileage standards. That's a common conservative position. But the auto industry cringed and complained that it would cost too much money and that the government should stay out of the marketplace. Now Ford and GM are dying on the vine while Honda and Toyota clean up and increase their market share. This is a result of making more fuel-efficient vehicles and not relying so heavily on expensive trucks and SUVs. So yeah, these companies shouldn't get a bailout, but when some of the largest employers in the state have to lay off workers and close their doors, that affects thousands and thousands of people and has a ripple effect.

The problem, however, is that a lot of voters in Michigan might blame Democratic stewardship for Michigan's ailments even if Republican economic policies might be what's ultimately responsible for their woes.

Voters tend to take out their anger on the party that's in control even if that party may not be primarily responsible for mucking everything up.

Black Political Analysis said...

Michigan only comes in to play if Romney is the VP.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.