Clinton revives fight over Michigan loss

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Hillary Clinton is blaming her 2016 presidential election loss in part on bad polling data from fellow Democrats, but some Michigan party loyalists said Thursday the Clinton campaign failed to heed warnings about looming trouble.

In a Wednesday interview at Recode’s Code Conference in California, Clinton criticized the Democratic National Committee’s data deficit when she became the party’s nominee in July.

“I set up my campaign and we have our own data operation. I get the nomination. So I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party,” said Clinton, according to a Recode transcript. “I mean it was bankrupt, it was on the verge of insolvency, its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.”

Clinton lost in part because Republican Donald Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — states that Democratic nominees had won for at least the past six elections. Trump prevailed in Michigan by 10,704 votes.

Andrew Therriault, the DNC’s former director of data science who currently works for the city of Boston, fired back at Clinton in a tweet that was later deleted but saved by Tax Foundation economist Alan Cole. In the tweet, Therriault said the DNC models never had Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania “looking even close to safe. Her team thought they knew better.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, had warned the Clinton campaign that Trump was connecting with working-class voters in Michigan and posed a big threat.

“There were a lot of people telling them they had an issue (in Michigan),” Dingell said. “There are multiple factors, and quite frankly, I’m tired of finger pointing. ... It’s clear there were problems. If they’d listened, we might not have had the problems, and right now I’m focused on how not to repeat them.”

State Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said the Clinton campaign “came in a little late” to Michigan but thinks it is unproductive to assign blame.

“We know we lost Michigan and lost a bunch of other Rust Belt states,” Dillon said. “We need to learn lessons from that. We need to have the right messaging, and we need to do more organizing on the ground to persuade voters.”

Dingell, a longtime DNC member, wrote a Nov. 10 commentary in the Washington Post that described how the Clinton campaign took the state for granted in the general election. Clinton made an early August visit to the Trump stronghold of Macomb County, returned for a brief Oct. 10 visit to Wayne State University and didn’t return until a Nov. 4 stop at Detroit’s Eastern Market.

The problems were evident in early 2016, Dingell said, when Clinton underestimated Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders’ appeal, narrowly losing the state’s March primary while losing big with voters in Dingell’s district.

“That result didn’t surprise me, but it did infuriate me that Clinton and her team didn’t show up until the weekend before the primary, when it suddenly became clear they had a problem. ... They never stopped on a campus, never went to a union hall, never talked to the Arab-American community. Sanders was in my district 10 times during the primary. How would any sane person not predict how this one would go? It was fixable for the general election.”

The underestimation of Trump’s strength in Michigan became clear when former President Bill Clinton paid a surprise Nov. 2 visit to Detroit and hastily organized a get-out-the-vote meeting at an African-American church. Dingell told The Detroit News at the time as she rushed into the black church, “A lot of people got complacent.”

Detroit Democratic political operatives said at the time they were concerned about waning enthusiasm among black voters for Clinton.

“She’s gotta fire up the base ... or this thing is done,” consultant Steve Hood said about Clinton. “In Detroit, it’s not (voter) suppression, it’s depression.”

Some Democrats wanted President Barack Obama and popular first lady Michelle Obama to campaign in Michigan. The president made his only campaign appearance in the state on the day before the Nov. 8 election — and he addressed a rally in Ann Arbor, not Detroit.

Clinton generated nearly 48,000 fewer votes in Detroit than Obama did in 2012. Clinton beat Trump 95 percent to 3 percent in the city, but it was worse than Obama’s 98 percent to 2 percent drubbing of Mitt Romney in 2012.

Politico reported the Service Employees International Union wanted to shift its campaign pro-Clinton volunteers out of Iowa, where Trump was sure to win, and into Michigan about 10 days before the election after hearing about anxiety in the Great Lakes state.

But when consulted, Clinton’s top aides told SEIU to “stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win,” according to Politico.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said Thursday she had a “gut” feeling the state’s race would be closer than expected “just because Michigan is a rough and tumble, independent state.” She said the key is to stop looking back.

“But I really do think that the bigger issue coming out of all of this is that we need to make sure people are voting and that they are engaged and involved,” Stabenow said.