And you thought the presidential race was over in Michigan.
Donald Trump doesn’t. Recent polls show him still trailing here, but the gap is narrowing. That’s why two of his kids, Ivanka and Donald Jr., hit the state again Wednesday, and it’s why vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence will be here Thursday: to challenge conventional wisdom and deliver the Big Mitten for The Donald.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t think it’s over here, either, because the numbers say it isn’t. Former President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to Detroit Wednesday. And she’s scheduled to rally would-be supporters Friday in Detroit — after, that is, her vice-presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, and Democratic rival Bernie Sanders work the state her campaign long ago considered a sure win.
Michigan? It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This state hasn’t backed a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush in 1988. It’s home to the United Auto Workers and the modern labor movement, to the largest minority-majority major city in America, to a domestic auto industry that owes its survival to the Democrat currently sitting in the White House.
Yes, Michigan should be a slam dunk for Democrats this year. Its Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is mostly missing-in-public-action thanks to his administration’s mishandling of the Flint water crisis. The Republican-controlled Legislature has demonstrated a knack for botching everything from roads funding to a rescue package for Detroit schools.
And Trump, the Republican nominee, has made a sport out of bashing Ford Motor Co., one of the state’s top employers; has routinely mischaracterized Michigan’s manufacturing rebound; and has ignored political norms with endless braggadocio and impolitic shots at women, minorities, even a former Miss Universe.
But Michigan is also the home to so-called “Reagan Democrats,” who spurned the liberalism of the early 1980s and voted Republican. Its bedrock manufacturing sector suffered under the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by President Clinton. Its largest city, Detroit, paid a price for public corruption at the highest levels of its government.
A distinct strain of nativism still courses through parts of the body politic here, blue-collar workers in particular. They’ve witnessed first-hand the threat posed by foreign competition and globalization, the cynicism of the coastal elite’s bias (see auto sales figures) against American metal and the companies that build it.
For all his manifest flaws, Trump’s messages of economic nationalism leavened with a promise to “drain the swamp” of alleged corruption in Washington are coming at just the right time. Hillary Clinton’s campaign is being slammed by renewed FBI scrutiny of her emails, confirmation of a parallel federal investigation into the Clinton Foundation and a torrent of revelations courtesy of WikiLeaks.
Whether any of that will be enough to cost Clinton her predicted win in Michigan — or the election itself — remains to be seen over the final five days of the campaign and on Election Day. But an old adage holds as much in politics as it does in business:
Pay attention to what people do, not what they say. The actions say both camps believe Michigan and its 16 electoral votes still are in play. This state is not guaranteed to go blue in a volatile race between the two most unpopular candidates to seek the presidency in modern times.
Clinton wouldn’t be coming to Detroit Friday — Detroit! — if her campaign’s internal polling didn’t affirm what the public polling is saying, namely that her lead is slipping. Neither she nor her husband would be coming to Detroit if the campaign didn’t see evidence of a widening enthusiasm gap among African-American voters who strongly backed Obama in the past two cycles.
Over the past 12 days, the Fox 2 Detroit/Mitchell poll shows Clinton's lead in Michigan has lost 10 points to Trump in a four-way race. It pegs Clinton at 47 percent and Trump at 43, near the margin of error. Several national tracking polls also show the race tightening considerably.
“We love President Obama,” Leslie Wimes, president of the Democratic African-American Women’s Caucus in Florida, told MSNBC. “That doesn’t transfer to Hillary Clinton by osmosis. It’s over now as far as the African-American community is concerned.
“She had time back then to get into the community and get people out to vote. Now, you know, the numbers are the numbers. There’s nothing she can do now.”
But Clinton is going to try on Friday at a “Get out the Vote” rally — which tells you everything you need to know.
Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.