Thursday, September 25, 2008

All eyes shouldn't be on Michigan

"I want you to feel the pressure, because Michigan could be the Ohio of this election." - First lady Laura Bush pumping up state delegates at the Republican National Convention

Sorry to burst Mrs. Bush's bubble, but there's a slim chance this ungodly long presidential race will come down to the Great Lakes State.

I know, I know. The national pundits think Michigan's where it's at. We're a great story with the highest unemployment rate, a beautiful but unpopular Democratic governor and an African-American ex-mayor of our largest city heading to the slam.

And stereotypes? We got your stereotypes right here. There are bowling alleys galore to pensively interview those all-important blue-collar Macomb County voters, diehard deer hunters in the rustic U.P. to rhapsodize about Sarah Palin and patchouli-drenched students in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor to philosophize about Barack Obama.

Who am I to dissuade the national press corps from our exceptionalism? So let me sincerely roll out the welcome mat for Anderson Cooper, Joe Scarborough, Katie Couric and your posses. Please come revel in our Water Winter Wonderland and throw money at our hotels, restaurants and party stores - our Legislature will probably hand you a tax rebate. (Seriously, just ask the Hollywood set. We toss 'em away like candy).

As for Obama and John McCain, keep assaulting us with ads 24/7. Media companies are doing slightly better than Lehman Brothers and your assistance is greatly appreciated.

But the thing is, you'll be taking another girl home on election night. It's looking more like Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia or even New Hampshire with her anorexic four electoral votes will tip the scales for that magic 270.

We were the belle of the ball for the bungled primary in January and those crazy Dems couldn't decide how to pick delegates for months. The fact that so many candidates boycotted us made us far more fun to figure out than Florida.

So the likelihood that Michigan will again be front and center Nov. 4 is small. There's always a chance, of course. Who could have predicted the camp-worthy pregnant chad thing eight years ago? Elections are a whacky business and a lot can happen in five weeks.

There could be another terrorist attack on American soil, for one thing. The housing crisis could continue to cramp the markets even with a $700 billion bailout. Or Kwame Kilpatrick could punch out a cop naked while shouting, "Long live Barack Obama!"

Now if McCain conquers Michigan, he'll be in prime position to win the Electoral College unless Obama steals Ohio or Florida out from him. But if McCain wins our economically mutilated state that's been reliably blue since 1992, I'll bet it's Johnny in a rout. He'll take Wisconsin, Minnesota and possibly Pennsylvania and keep his vulnerable western states.

Obama's turnout model of young and black voters will be declared a dismal failure and the Bradley effect will have reared its head.

That could certainly happen. But the McCain folks don't really think he'll bag the Mitten State, although they say publicly they have a "really good chance," as Mrs. Bush told the delegation at the RNC. Why not? They're happy to see Obama part with millions here. And they know it will be close, even though the Democrat leads in 11 of the last 13 post-convention polls.

But if McCain was truly serious about winning the Wolverine State, his veep would have been Mitt Romney, Bloomfield Hills' favorite son.

John Dunagan, President Bush's Michigan chair in '04, claims Palin will single-handedly flip the state red. His reasoning? We have 12 minor league hockey teams and the highest registration of snowmobiles in the country.

Um ... sure. Who can argue with empirical evidence like that?

Obama started at a disadvantage by not campaigning here for the primary. McCain has roots in Michigan dating back to his 2000 victory, although he lost badly this year to Romney. But Obama's ground game is far better - 40-plus offices, a massive voter registration effort and superior media operation.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is Obama's biggest albatross here. In some polls, voters blame her more than Bush for the state's unparalleled economic woes. That could change with Wall Street's implosion, of course, but there's a reason she's not in the Democrat's stable of surrogates.

In the end, it comes down to the Detroit suburbs in vote-rich Oakland County, which has turned Democratic for the last two cycles. (Macomb was sooo '80s). Tensions in Detroit helped McCain post unusually high numbers here in a recent Time survey.

If Kwame was still the proud occupant of the Manoogian Mansion, I'd say that Michigan's traditional lack of racial transcendence, as Obama poetically puts it, would propel McCain to the White House. But Hizzoner's gone and he has no relationship with Obama to speak of.

I'm inclined to agree with former McCain adviser Mike Murphy, an old hand in John Engler's and Spence Abraham's campaigns, who thinks Oakland County is Obama country. Palin will appeal to the quirkily conservative Macomb crowd, but she's too much pitbull for Oakland's sunny soccer moms who aren't fond of guns but do like making their own uterine decisions.

Somewhere, Mitt Romney is shaking his head and plotting for 2012.

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