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Political pundits debrief after closest presidential race in Michigan history

Nov 23, 2016

This Issues & Ale community conversation was held at Lansing Brewing Company in partnership with Public Sector Consultants.
Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

One of the most divisive elections in our country’s history is now in the rear-view mirror.

At Monday night’s Issues & Ale Pundit Summit, we debriefed and began to look forward into the new political climate established on Nov. 8.

Political pundits in attendance were Jeff Williams, chief executive officer of Public Sector Consultants, Rick Pluta, co-host of Michigan Radio’s It’s Just Politics, Stu Sandler, Republican consultant and co-founder of Grand River Strategies, and Susan Demas, editor and publisher of Inside Michigan Politics. The event was held in partnership with Public Sector Consultants.

Hosting the event was Michigan Radio’s own Zoe Clark, co-host of It’s Just Politics.

The night began as pundits, seated on stools against a huge American flag backdrop, turned toward Sandler for the first remarks.

HOST QUESTION: As a Republican strategist in Michigan, what went right for you during this presidential election?

Sandler said when FBI director James Comey announced a re-examination of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Republicans started seeing spikes in their polling numbers.

“The Friday before the election, we actually were told by the Republican National Committee that, ‘Wow, Michigan’s in play,’” he said.

"We're a blue state that can go red under the right circumstances."

People from rural and blue-collar areas “turned out in a big way” for Donald Trump, he said, while urban voters did not for Hillary Clinton.

Sandler also said that contrary to the national narrative, polling in Michigan was pretty accurate.

“If you look at some of the Michigan pollsters,” he said, “they pretty much nailed it.”

Williams agreed. Listen below to hear him explain why, based on the polls, we shouldn’t have been that surprised by Donald Trump’s win.

HOST QUESTION: Is Michigan now a red state?

Susan Demas chose to pull from former Republican Party Chair Sal Anuzis’ repertoire in her answer:

From left to right (not necessarily politically speaking): Jeff Williams, Rick Pluta, Zoe Clark, Stu Sandler and Susan Demas.
Credit Lindsey Scullen / Michigan Radio

“We’re a blue state that can go red under the right circumstances,” Demas said, quoting one of Anuzis' favorite lines.

Sandler’s answer was that, after this election, Michigan is not red or blue, but purple.

“In governance it’s a red state, but I’d say it’s a purple state,” he said. “A lot of things went right for Republicans this election to make it that. You had a drop off in the urban vote. You had an explosion in the rural vote. You had an explosion in the blue collar vote.”

Williams, however, seemed to disagree.

“I don’t think we’re a red state,” he said. “I think we’re a confused state right now.”

Next, pundits turned to the audience for questions.

AUDIENCE QUESTION:  Why didn’t the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) pass? Was it just the Reagan Democrats flexing their muscles or is southeast Michigan intrinsically not ready for public transportation?

Williams said the RTA faced a turnout problem. He pointed to the 150,000 people in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties who voted four years ago and did not vote this year.

On top of that, he said the feeling of this year’s election did not work in the RTA's favor.

“I think the sentiment of the election was kind of, ‘We don’t trust government,’ and therefore a regional tax was too close to government,” he said.

Clark pointed out, however, that the vote was close on this ballot proposal. She said what likely stopped the it from muscling over the last hump was the lack of a "single, solid message of voting yes."

“And what we know... that going ahead if you don’t have about 60% of folks saying, ‘I’m for it’ that a ballot question like that, particularly one with that much money, is going to go down,” Clark said.

AUDIENCE QUESTION: Were voters in Michigan suppressed during this election?

Williams said at the margins, there was likely voter suppression in Michigan. Still, it wasn’t as bad as in other states.

“If we’re concerned about suppression, I say the greatest way to fix it is let’s open up the absentee vote or let’s make it a little less restrictive in the state,” he said.

Listen below for Williams’ full answer.

To hear the full Pundit Summit, listen at the top of this post.