Election 2012: Is Michigan a true battleground in the race for the White House?

Oct 12, 2012

With just 25 days to go before the Presidential election, and a week since the first Presidential debate, a few pollsters and at least one analyst are putting Michigan into swing-state territory even though, as we’ve noted before, President Obama’s generally been given the edge in most polls in the state.

This week, Michigan enjoyed a round of visits from top flight presidential candidate surrogates starting with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan on Monday. And, just today, we saw Anne Romney stumping for her husband, Mitt Romney, in the couple’s native-state.

So, the question remains, after five presidential election cycles with Michigan falling into the Democratic column, is Michigan an actual battleground state in 2012?

The right-leaning website Real Clear Politics says so. A Detroit News/WDIV poll shows the Obama lead shrinking since last week’s debate and a Gravis Marketing poll also puts the race for Michigan’s 16 electoral votes much closer than it has been. President Obama still leads, according to these surveys, but the momentum is moving toward Mitt Romney.

And, as we’ve said before, Michigan seems like it should be attainable for the GOP. It’s not like a Republican can’t get elected here statewide. Just ask Governor Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette or Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

But, aside from the Real Clear Politics call, no one else is really putting Michigan into that list of eight or nine states that are the focus of the fiercest competition (states like Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire, Nevada and Iowa). And, we’re certainly not seeing a big re-allocation of resources by the campaigns that would suggest things are changing in the mitten state.

One question that gets bandied about is: if Michigan isn’t a battleground state, then why are high profile campaign surrogates making regular stops here? Well, there are lots of reasons why candidates and their surrogates visit a state – fundraising, a quick visit to make sure a safe state stays that way. But President Obama hasn’t been here since April; Romney since August. In fact, this was the first time in decades that neither presidential candidate themselves visited Michigan during the entire month of September. In 2004, George W. Bush made John Kerry work for Michigan, which maybe meant he wasn’t able to spend as much time and money in places like Ohio and Florida – true swing states with lots of electoral votes.

Candidates and campaigns lower on the ballot are, of course, watching the presidential race because it affects them. Support and enthusiasm for the top of the ticket can make a difference in fundraising, recruiting volunteers and organizing. Donors – people and organizations here in Michigan – will push their dollars where the need is the most; a challenge or crisis at the top of the ticket drives dollars upward. Safer races at the top of the ballot leaves more for things like Congress, state House races, or the Michigan Supreme Court. What put so many Democrats into a tizzy after the president’s debate performance was how it drove everything in the wrong direction; Republicans, on the other hand, were elated. It turned out a lot of so-called “committed” voters apparently weren’t.

But, one Democrat who seemed unaffected by the changes in the presidential contest is Michigan’s U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. She seems to be coasting toward reelection, with almost every poll showing her with a double-digit lead. This week she said she’s done with the debate about debates and said there won’t be any this year.

She blamed her Republican challenger Pete Hoekstra for refusing to agree to the two debates she accepted – one at WGVU TV in Grand Rapids and another, a joint appearance before the Detroit Economic Club. Hoekstra did want more debates - on network television - but says Stabenow gamed the process to avoid any debates at all. It’s worth remembering that Debbie Stabenow used debates to her advantage 12 years ago when she was a challenger trying to unseat incumbent Senator Spencer Abraham.

So, with less than a month to go until Election Day, it's looking likely that Michigan is going to stay blue. But, of course, we’ve still got two more Presidential debates… and a good October surprise or two to look forward to.