Sun, 25 Oct 2020

Battleground State of Michigan Key in 2020 Path to White House

Voice of America
18 Sep 2020, 16:35 GMT+10

SAGINAW, MICHIGAN - Amid a sea of flags flying in a strong breeze, all of them emblazoned with "Trump" and various campaign slogans and images, Michigan voter Mickey Cook mingled with the thousands who showed up for President Donald Trump's recent campaign event, held at an airport near Saginaw in the central part of the state. Cook gives Trump, a Republican, high marks for his job performance in the White House.

"Trump's done what he said he's going to do and that's the bottom line," Cook told VOA. "Whether you like the guy or not, he's working hard, and I haven't seen any accomplishments from any political figure like I have from him at least. The guy's non-stop."

Aside from seeing the president in person, the rally gives Cook an opportunity to sell red shirts bearing a unique message: "It's Great in Michagain".

"It's a play on 'Make America Great Again,'" Cook explained, referencing the president's well-known political slogan. "We want everyone to know it's great in Michigan. Aside from the political, there's a lot of great things here."

Despite his enthusiasm for Trump, Cook said he doesn't know if he'll actually vote in the November election.

"Sometimes I don't feel like the vote matters," he said. "The typical politics are ugly. And this country has veered away from what has really made things great. You get really disgusted with what's going on and you feel like: what's the point?"

Others in the state are eager to vote.

"We have an absentee ballot that we will be receiving and will probably cast it that way and will probably deliver it to a dropbox," said retired Grand Rapids business owner Brent Slay.

Slay supports Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The former vice president has run a mostly virtual campaign in states like Michigan, forgoing traditional rallies open to the public that could spread the coronavirus.

"Obviously President Trump wants to do it in person with big crowds and Vice President Biden has chosen to do it [campaign] in a more discreet and safer manner perhaps for the people of Michigan, but I certainly feel like we have an opportunity to hear what they have to say," said Slay, who believes Biden has broader appeal in Michigan than did 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump defeated Clinton in Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes out of more than 4.5 million cast.

"There was not great enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton," Slay added. "[Vermont Senator] Bernie Sanders beat her in the primary in Michigan. So that says a lot right there. I don't think Michigan is an overtly liberal state, so I think there is far more enthusiasm for Joe Biden."

Some voters are on the fence, including Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi who works in intensive care at a southeast Michigan hospital where he has treated many COVID-19 patients. He supported Democrat Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, and backed the state's current governor, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, in her successful 2018 campaign.

"I did support a lot of Democrats in the last cycle, yes," Al-Hadidi said, but addedhe might vote for Trump in November. He wants to see how Biden and his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, reach out to Michigan's Muslim-American community before making a final decision.

"The Muslim community is over 100,000 voters and they could shift the results one way or the other," Al-Hadidi said. "I think we realize that, and I think the officials realize that."

Democratic and Republican strategists alike view Michigan as one of several battleground states that could determine the outcome of the presidential contest. Trump's narrow 2016 victory in the state that spawned America's automobile industry was the first by a Republican since 1988, breaking a string of six consecutive victories by Democrats in Michigan.

Political analysts say a unique combination of factors benefited Trump four years ago, including a dip in voter participation.

"From presidential election to presidential election ordinarily just in the normal course of things we expect turnout to go up. But between 2012 and 2016, turnout in Michigan actually declined by 200,000 votes," University of Michigan political scientist Michael Traugott told VOA. Traugott said most of the decline occurred in and around Detroit, a city with many African American voters who tend to vote Democratic.

"I think when you break down that number, there were a substantial number of people including some friends of mine of a more conservative nature who couldn't vote for Donald Trump, but they wouldn't vote for Hillary Clinton," Slay recalled, adding that Democrats are determined to avoid a repeat this year. "Visiting with those people, I don't think that's going to happen this time. They are firmly ensconced in the opinion they are going to vote for Joe Biden."

Traugott believes Democrats have learned their lesson.

"The Democrats are not going to let the Republicans, the Trump campaign, sneak up on them the way they did in 2016, so there will be a substantial turnout drive," he said.

Polls show Biden leading in Michigan. But voter turnout is hard to predict during a pandemic, according to Northwestern University political scientist Alvin Tillery.

"People have shown a willingness to put it all on the line to go out and vote," Tillery said during a recent Skype interview, pointing to large turnout numbers during April's primary election in nearby Wisconsin that occurred at the height of pandemic restrictions. Many polling locations saw long lines of voters.

"The dilemma is really around the suppressive efforts," he said. "You have people who are working-class wage earners you know that have kids in school ... having to stand in line to wait five to six hours, it's going to make them want to punch out."

If he ends up voting, Trump supporter Mickey Cook doesn't think he'll have to wait long cast his ballot and may opt to do so in person.

"There's a chance I could. It's just sometimes it's just one of those days where you feel like, boy, you just get tired of hearing all that stuff," he said, adding that he doesn't want to feel regret for not participating.

"I guess it's better to vote than to say that I did nothing."

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