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Fractious Michigan in the Primary Spotlight

The Great Lakes State deserves its battleground status.

The Great Lakes State goes to the polls today (Feb. 27) to determine who Michiganders want on the presidential ballot in November. But like all swing states, the competition is of national importance and will be watched closely. Observers this year, however, may end up with a spectacle that even the most ardent political hounds did not anticipate. Michigan is, in every sense of the word, an electoral battleground.

The Great Michigan Split

Michigan will hold a state-run primary as per the law in which both Democrats and the GOP will partake. However, local Republicans were not pleased to have their electoral practices under the control of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and, like Nevada, have split their nomination process in two.

As such, today’s primary will award 16 of the precious state delegates, and the remaining 39 will be awarded based on the GOP caucus on March 2. Former President Donald Trump is – according to polling – expected to win by roughly 50 points, meaning that Nikki Haley can add another crushing defeat to her struggling scorecard. But that won’t stop her campaigning hard all the way to Super Tuesday, and it is, by no means, the only competition worth watching.

Haley’s Swing and a Miss

Haley has made waves by saying Trump is the reason that Michigan is a battleground state, adding it was once a “beacon” for Republicans that collapsed after Trump won the presidency in 2016. Speaking to The Detroit News, she said her competitor had left the state “completely divided,” suggesting that the GOP will continue to lose with him at the helm.

Strong words, indeed. But just how accurate are they? In terms of presidential races, Trump was the first Republican selected by the Great Lake State since George H.W. Bush back in 1988. Perhaps Haley was referring to the Senate, where Debbie Stabenow (D) has been safely ensconced since 2000, or perhaps even the other Senate seat that has been blue since 1978 (Carl Levin and then Gary Peters). Lower chamber representation has been split approximately down the middle since 1993.

It’s a tough case to make that Michigan is divided because of Trump, but one that Haley believes can swing – if not voters – then at least publicity her way. And on the subject of publicity …

Committed to Uncommitted

President Joe Biden should be in for a dream ride, cruising his way to the Democrat presidential nomination. He is the incumbent, no big names have come out to challenge him, and the Fourth Estate has decided that the criticism of his cognitive abilities highlighted in the Robert Hur investigation was nothing more than right-wing propaganda. So why is Michigan presenting such an opportunity for failure for the commander-in-chief?

GettyImages-2033875830 Joe Biden

Joe Biden (Photo by Aaron Schwartz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

There is little doubt that Biden will prevail over his primary competitors, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) and Marianne Williamson (who has already folded up her campaign tent); so it is not who is on the ballot that is causing quiet consternation in the White House. A campaign is underway to get voters to opt for the “uncommitted” option on the Democrat ballot.

Backed by Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D), the defiant plot is being carried out to send a message to the president that he must not, ultimately, side with Israel over Gaza. Tlaib – a Palestinian-American – represents an area (12th District) with a large Arab American and Muslim American population, who she says “do not feel represented by our government right now.”

Tlaib argued:

“This is the way you can raise our voices … Right now, we feel completely neglected and just unseen by our government …

“It is also important to create a voting bloc, something that is a bullhorn, to say, ‘Enough is enough. We don’t want a country that supports wars and bombs and destruction. We want to support life. We want to support life. We want to stand up for every single life killed in Gaza.’”

Former Michigan Rep. Andy Levin is a key organizer in the effort and makes the implied case that key demographics might ditch Biden if he doesn’t fall into line. He said, “As a Michigander, I’m concerned about the impact that Biden’s funding of Israel’s war will have on our fight against Trump and for democracy … I’m hearing from so many, especially young people, that thousands of innocents dying under US bombs and warplanes makes them feel ashamed.”

The messaging appears clear, but the volume will be determined by how many folks vote “uncommitted.”

The Big Picture

Michigan is one of roughly seven crucial swing states that will decide who gets the keys to the White House come November. In 2020 Biden won the state with just under 3%. Trump took it in 2016 by less than 0.3% – a difference of roughly 10,000 votes. Both presidents have triumphed here, and both are hoping to repeat those glory days in just eight months.

Early polling to date gives Trump a lead that is currently outside of the margin of error. The RealClearPolitics average has Trump with a 5.1% lead – up 0.3% from last week. Today is Michiganders’ first opportunity to make their feelings known as the two likely contenders each strive for a clear-cut victory. Yes, Michigan is fractured in many ways, making it an almost quintessential swing state and, for that reason, one of the most exciting races to watch this primary season.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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