Friday, September 5, 2008

Michigan in Play as Campaigns Begin Dash to Election

With the national party conventions concluded, and with the suspenseful wait for the vice-presidential announcements now over, the campaigns begin a 60-day dash to election day.

While much attention is being paid to national polling trends, over the next two months the nitty gritty action - analytical and political - will be at the state-by-state level, as the Democrats and the Republicans prepare to do battle in a handful of toss-up states that could decide the election.

Among the most competitive will be Michigan, the Big Blue state that looks to be in play for the GOP for the first time in two decades.

Newsweek's got
Karl Rove's breakdown of the battleground states, and here's the blurb for Michigan:

The state is a key McCain pickup target. The Democratic Party is struggling - Governor Granholm raised taxes $1.5 billion last year and Detroit's mayor is fighting felony charges. McCain is counting on the votes of working class, mostly Roman Catholic Reagan Democrats and independents in eastern Michigan. His maverick image could also help with "soft" moderate Republicans in the Detroit suburbs. Obama must attract large turnout among blacks in Detroit's Wayne County and in the southern parts of Oakland County, along with support from college students. His challenge will be to hold on to blue-collar Democrats in Macomb County. Expect auto companies to press both candidates for $40 billion or more in government loans.
Note that Detroit's Mayor Kilpatrick resigned this week in a plea agreement reached after Governor Granholm mounted pressure for Kilpatrick's removal from office. The scandal holds clear implications for November, as the Motor City's known as a dependable Democratic stronghold. As Keith Naughton indicates:

Even with Kwame Kilpatrick in the slammer, Barack Obama will be dogged by the scandal that brought down Detroit's mayor. For starters, Kilpatrick won't be around to lead the get-out-the-vote effort in dependably Democratic Detroit, which could be decisive in the toss-up state of Michigan, where Obama clings to a slim lead over John McCain. But beyond the mechanical breakdown, Kilpatrick's salacious, headline-commandeering controversy has inflamed the racial tensions that have riven this region. Detroit is 81 percent black and the poorest city in America, according to new census data, while the surrounding suburbs are 81 percent white and include some of the most affluent enclaves in the country. Ever since the riots of 1967, Detroiters have divided themselves along racial lines, and politicians on both sides of the city's cultural fault line—the 8 Mile Road made famous by Eminem—have stoked racial fears to get elected. "This Kwame Kilpatrick mess has splattered over onto the Obama campaign at the worst possible time," says veteran Detroit political consultant Sam Riddle. "Kilpatrick's brand of leadership has fed into the worst stereotypes that white voters have about black leaders."
There won't be too much "community organizing" in Detroit this fall, it seems.

In any case, note as well that the Wall Street Journal's got a big piece on the stakes in Michigan for the general election: "
McCain Makes a Run at Michigan, A Wavering Democratic Stronghold":

If John McCain becomes the nation's 44th president, it may be thanks to Michigan - a prize the Republicans think they can claim for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Michigan is a perennial must-win for Democratic candidates, as well as a bellwether for how the party will fare in nearby Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This week, the Obama camp launched its first television ads targeted directly at Michigan voters. One, titled "Revitalize" accuses McCain of "selling out" Michigan auto workers. Spending on TV is a tacit acknowledgment the Democrats consider Michigan competitive this year.

Michigan is home to the original "Reagan Democrats," white, working-class voters who swung Republican. Today, on paper, conditions here favor the Democrats. Unemployment stands at 8.5%, the nation's highest. Michigan's home-foreclosure rate is twice the national average, which should make it easy for Sen. Obama to campaign against a Republican who stumbled when asked how many houses he owns. Democrats have won the state in four out of the past five presidential races.

However, Sen. Obama is the one who might face an uphill battle. For starters, he chose not to participate in Michigan's primary in January - a decision that now deprives his campaign of a ready-made network of supporters. (Michigan held its primary earlier than the national Democratic Party wanted, so Sen. Obama and several others stayed off the ballot in solidarity with the party.) At the same time, Sen. McCain plays well among moderate Republicans and independents who dislike George W. Bush, whom Sen. McCain beat handily in the party's 2000 Michigan primary.

Michigan also has some of the most complex race relations north of the Mason-Dixon line. "Michigan is a challenge for any Democratic candidate," says Amy Chapman, the head of the Obama campaign here. "Everyone thinks it's blue. But you have to work hard to make it blue."

While the Obama campaign hopes to pick up a handful of reliably Republican states like Colorado in November, the flip-side is also true: The McCain campaign could win the White House by picking off a few traditional Democratic states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Minnesota.
Recent Michigan statewide polls indicate a tight race, although post-GOP convention surveys may show a surge of support for the McCain ticket following the intense extravaganza of the Sarah Palin vice-presidential rollout; and especially noteworthy is that the GOP represents change for Michigan voters, which will be especially true now that a moose-eating mommy-maverick's joined the ticket (moose-burgers are hip in Michigan).

So far, McCain and Palin have received
a warm Michigan welcome, certainly a lot better than they're likely to get in nearby Chicago from the Oprah Winfrey Show.