January 10, 2008

Michigan Primary

Michigan is much different than Iowa or New Hampshire: it is more like the rest of the United States. In that sense, the Michigan Primary could function as a reality check. How might these candidates fare in an industrial, multicultural state? Unfortunately, the Michigan Primary will not function this way, because when it was moved to an earlier date, this was against party rules. Both parties have punished Michigan by taking away delegates to the national nominating conventions. The Republicans took away half, the Democrats took away every one of the delegates. As a result, Obama, Edwards and Richardson have taken their names off the ballot, while Clinton did not. So, on the Democratic side, there is no contest, though voters may choose to vote "uncommitted." In a curious way, the vote then turns out to be a referendum on Hillary. Her or "uncommitted"?
In the first two contests, the candidates could reasonably expect to come into personal contact with a good deal of the electorate. On a good day in Iowa or New Hampshire, they might be seen and heard by 15,000 people or more, and multiply that number by the days they spent in the state, and it compares rather well with the turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire. Fully half of the voters in each state got a first-hand impression of the candidates, and anyone who wanted to do so certainly has the opportunity. A friend of mine in New Hampshire wrote me that he and his wife managed to see Obama three times, Clinton, Richardson, and Edwards twice each, plus McCain and Giuliani.  He decided for Obama, saying, "When we first saw him, a year ago at a book signing event, I was underimpressed. But he grew into his candidacy. His Welcome Back to New Hampshire rally the morning after the Iowa caucus was rocking - and actually very moving." 
The voters in the first two states are the lucky ones, because they can really study the candidates and talk about them based on direct contact. Michigan is another matter, and more typical of the campaign for the presidency from now on. To begin with, there is the sheer scale of the State. Michigan is six times larger than New Hampshire, though about the same size as Iowa. More to the point, Michigan has 10 million inhabitants, more than twice as many as Iowa and New Hampshire put together, and they are not going to get many chances to see the candidates in the six days between primaries, no matter how intensive the campaigning. This means that the candidates will have to use the media to reach the voter, and that fact favors candidates with deep pockets.
Since there is no Democratic contest, we should focus on the Republican side. Huckabee and McCain do not have much money, and they will need to calculate carefully how to use the scarce resources. Huckabee will presumably be mobilizing the churches, as he did in Iowa, and McCain can count on support from veterans organizations. By comparison, Romney has more, and apparently plans to spend heavily.
Not only does Michigan demand more money to run a campaign, but it has a more varied electorate. More than 800,000 people in Michigan do not speak English in their homes, including many of the 400,000 Hispanics. Iowa and New Hampshire basically do not have Black people, which makes Obama's success there almost astonishing. Michigan's 1.4 million African-Americans traditionally vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. Had there been a three-way contest with Edwards and Clinton, Obama presumably would have received far more than a third of the Black vote. Even more intriguing, Michigan also has a sizable Arab population, more than 400,000 in the Detroit metropolitan area. Dearborn, where Henry Ford once built his largest factory, today is 30% Arab. It seems reasonable to think that because of his cultural background, Obama would have appealed to such voters. But because the Michigan Primary is meaningless for the Democrats, we will never know how Obama might have done. However, the Arab voter is not necessarily a Democrat. The Arab population is better educated and more highly paid than the Michigan average, and half typically vote for the Republicans. This group may choose Romney, rather than the Bible-thumping Huckabee or militant McCain.  
The Republicans will battle it out in a state whose economy has been struggling for decades. Detroit is the headquarters for General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, and as they have lost market share to Japanese and European firms, jobs have been disappearing. This is a blue-collar state, where only one adult in four has a BA (in New Hampshire it was one in three), and where the number of jobs has shrunk 7% during the Bush years, at a time when the country as a whole has created more than 2 million jobs. Given these local hard times, the populism that Edwards brought into the campaign and that other candidates have picked up, should play well in Michigan. That ought to favor Huckabee and McCain more than Romney. Note also that while Detroit dominates Michigan, it has a large rural area as well, and an entire penninsula, Upper Michigan, that has no large cities. This population is less multicultural and more conservative, and it will be interesting to see how Huckabee and McCain do in these areas. Romney's father was once governor of Michigan (and an unsuccessful Presidential candidate), and the resonance of the name, plus old family connections, can only help his faltering campaign. Indeed, the news today is that Romney has pulled his advertising off the air in South Carolina to focus all his energies in Michigan. This seems to be a recognition of the fact that if he cannot win there, his campaign may be over.
The Michigan Primary could have been the dramatic third act of an electoral drama, pitting the Clinton machine with its strong ties to the labor unions against the Obama wave. Instead, it will be a sort of referendum on Clinton by herself, and if half the Democrats are "undecided" that is a kind of defeat for her. At least on the Republican side there is still a contest, and a very interesting one, between Huckabee, McCain, and Romney, who each have around 20% in the average of all polls, with Giuliani running at about 10% and assorted others garnering a few votes, too. If one looks back over the polls for a year, McCain had a high point of 30% back in March of last year, before his finances collapsed and his campaign seemed hopeless. After falling as low as 10%, his numbers are rising rapidly now. Romney peaked at 26% at the same time that McCain waned. But Romney has been fading a bit ever since then, even before his losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Giuliani once had 28% in Michigan, but he has been falling to his present 10%. Huckabee, in contrast, has not suffered any relapses. Starting at 0% in June of 2007, his numbers have continually risen to his present tie with Romney and McCain.  If the electorate in Michigan is as volatile as that in New Hampshire, the next week should be very interesting.