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There's a reason why we Michiganders will be seeing a lot of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Sep 21, 2016

You might think, some days, that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were actually running for president of Michigan.

Trump has been to the state repeatedly, and will be in nearby Toledo for the second time in the last few weeks today.

Chelsea Clinton, the candidate’s only child, will be campaigning and fundraising in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Flint Thursday and Friday. You might think they are paying a lot of attention to one medium-sized state that has only 16 of the 270 needed electoral votes.

And that would be right.

But as Trump has surged a bit in the polls, or more accurately perhaps, Clinton ebbed, our state has taken on new importance, and here’s why:

Some polls now show Trump not only winning all the states Mitt Romney carried, but also taking Nevada, Iowa, Florida and Ohio.

But here’s his problem.

Let’s say he does take all those states. It’s far from certain that he will, but let’s say he does win them.

Even with that, Donald Trump would still lose.

He needs to pry either Michigan or Pennsylvania out of the big blue fortress that has carried Democrats to victory in four out of the last six elections.

Neither state has supported a Republican presidential nominee since 1988

Neither state has supported a Republican presidential nominee since 1988, the last election in which there was no World Wide Web, the Berlin Wall was still dividing Germany, and voters still worried about a now-forgotten country known as the Soviet Union.

Michigan is also a state full of unhappy white male blue-collar workers or former workers, who remember a world when there was a good paying, but boring, job on the assembly line for just about anyone who wanted one.

They know NAFTA was a bad deal for them and this state, and they are perhaps the most receptive voters to Trump’s protectionist messaging.

On the other hand, Michigan also has thousands of highly educated professional women in places like largely affluent Oakland County. These women grew up Republican, which is one reason why Oakland was reliably Republican right up through the presidency of the first George Bush. But not any longer. President Obama won it by more than 50,000 votes four years ago; I expect Hillary Clinton to do even better.

However, now for a little reality check.

Back in the 1980s, Michigan voted closer to the national average in all three presidential elections than any other state.

But for most of its history, Michigan has not been a very reliable barometer of the mood in the rest of the nation. In close presidential elections, Michiganders have been more likely to vote for the loser than the winner.

Do you remember Presidents Charles Evans Hughes and Wendell Willkie? How about Presidents Hubert Humphrey or John Kerry or Al Gore?

They never got to the White House, but they all carried Michigan. So did Gerald Ford, the day he lost to Jimmy Carter.

In the last century, Michigan voters have given the state’s electoral votes to the loser about a fourth of the time. That doesn’t say anything bad about us.

You could say it shows that we are a bunch of independent cusses who can be contrary when we feel like it.

But as we say in big-league journalism … only time will tell.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.