LANSING (LSJ)– Pundits, polls, pigs and yes, lipstick. It’s time to pick a wearable, flattering color, Michigan – maybe with UV protection against the glare of a national spotlight sure to shine on election swing states.
Michigan has been called a yellow state, a battleground state, neither red nor blue, and worth 17 electoral votes in what pollsters are showing to be a tight presidential race here between Republican candidate John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.
Obama led McCain 45 percentage points to 42 in a state poll conducted this past week by CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corp. The margin of error: yep, 3 percentage points.
Experts predict urban areas and the Upper Peninsula will tilt left and the rest of rural Michigan will lean right. What’s left is a tossup and the focus of the campaigns.
“The battleground is really in the suburbs,” said Bill Rustem, president of Public Sector Consultants, a Lansing-based public policy think tank.
McCain’s camp confirmed it’s fighting for Macomb County and also for Oakland, a county Rustem said used to vote GOP but has started to lean Democratic.
“But we are extremely impressed by the response from voters so far,” said McCain spokeswoman Sarah Lenti.
Since July 10, the Arizona senator has visited the state 10 times, focusing mostly on the communities around Detroit, and as of Friday, his campaign had set up 14 offices, seven of which are clustered in the counties in and near the Motor City.
Plans to more than double the number of offices to 30 are to be carried out within the week.
The Obama strategy is slightly different.
“We’re fighting for votes in every part of the state,” said Brent Colburn, the Illinois senator’s Michigan spokesman.
Obama has visited the state four times since the start of August: to Lansing, Battle Creek, Monroe and Farmington Hills. His campaign operated 34 campaign offices as of Thursday, with plans to add five more. The offices were scattered throughout the southern half of the lower peninsula, with one office set up for the U.P.
Both campaigns have an office in Lansing, and although the metro area as a whole tilts left, there are pockets that could go either way, experts say. Meridian, Delta and Delhi townships are considered the local battlegrounds.
The two campaigns are reaching out to voters like Michael Price, who at age 18, is voting in his first presidential election. The Delta Township teen is undecided, stuck between not knowing what Obama stands for and his own concern that McCain can’t connect with people.
“I’m not a big fan of either right now,” Price said of the candidates.
The parties still are ramping up their efforts to capture votes, though. Obama supporters are working the streets, hitting up college students to get them registered and interested in voting.
Republican voters in Michigan tend to be older, male and have a higher income, Rustem said.
“What the Republicans are doing is organizing and doing ads and e-mails,” he said.
The presidential campaign turned uglier last week when Republicans accused Obama of calling McCain’s vice presidential pick, Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin, a pig. Obama returned the shot, declaring Republican outrage to be swift boat politics, a reference to the 2004 presidential race when the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” attacked Democratic candidate John Kerry’s war record.
Experts say Lipstickgate isn’t likely to mean much to voters in Michigan, a state with a jobless rate of 8.5 percent in July, the highest in the nation.
The economy and rusted state of the auto industry are the issues the candidates must tackle, and neither is particularly adept as of yet, said Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.
“They need to be more up to speed on job losses,” he said. “They haven’t been good at explaining how they would help.”
Messages of hope, however, must be carefully honed for Michigan’s swing voter, Ballenger said. Michiganders don’t want to hear the local economy is all the fault of the Detroit Three.
Likewise, Rustem noted, Michigan cities lack the cultural sophistication to win jobs and young workers from cities such as Chicago, but candidates must avoid making locals feel like they’re unrefined.
In the end, the experts agree, the race for Michigan will be about substance.
“The debates are going to play a huge, huge role here,” Rustem said.
Christine Rook, Lansing State Journal