Michigan women help Clinton break through to nomination

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm gets goosebumps just thinking about Hillary Clinton accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, a long-fought dream that will become a reality next week in Philadelphia.

Granholm and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing have been instrumental in helping Clinton build support in Michigan and around the country over the past decade, including her 2008 primary battle with eventual President Barack Obama.

“It’s hard to describe what it would mean to me and many people like me who were thrilled at the barriers Barack Obama broke and will be utterly thrilled that this glass ceiling will be broken as well,” Granholm told The Detroit News, referencing Clinton’s pending status as the first female nominee of a major political party in the nation’s history.

“It’s not just about gender, obviously, but for me personally, that’s a big deal.”

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Stabenow was part of Clinton’s Michigan leadership team during the primary. She said she expects to stump for her in Michigan and other states this fall as the former secretary of state takes on Republican businessman Donald Trump in the general election.

Stabenow and Clinton entered the U.S. Senate together in 2001, the same year Clinton’s husband, President Bill Clinton, left the White House after serving the maximum two terms.

It was then, Stabenow said, she first thought Hillary Clinton could be president too.

“I saw the way she worked across the aisle with people who had been arch enemies of President Bill Clinton,” Stabenow said. “She was able to focus on getting something done and build relationships very effectively.”

Granholm, who moved to California in 2011 after serving as Michigan governor for eight years, is a regular Clinton surrogate on national news shows. She works as a senior adviser for the Clinton-aligned Correct The Record super political action committee, a research and rapid response team designed to defend against attacks.

Granholm recently touted Clinton at a Democratic Party dinner in Florida — her third trip there this cycle — and said she has been dispatched to Connecticut, Idaho, Minnesota and other states. She will speak at next week’s convention, where Clinton will accept the party nomination for president.

“She can’t be everywhere, so I’m happy to be able to go and do that,” Granholm said. “I’m also one of the people who is making the case for her on CNN and MSNBC, and I’ll continue to do that as well.”

Tough Michigan fight looms

Many pundits are predicting a combative campaign between Clinton and Trump, including in Michigan.

The New York businessman won the March 8 Michigan Republican primary while U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont shocked Clinton in the Democratic contest, defying public opinion polls to beat her by 1.6 percentage points. It was a narrow margin but a huge upset as a record 2.54 million people in Michigan voted, shattering the previous two-party primary record of 1.93 million set in 1972.

“That was obviously very disappointing,” Stabenow said. “I think things were moving quickly and that, frankly, the vote under-represented her support in Michigan. At the time, I think Bernie Sanders knew he needed to find a way to win in a state that would make a difference for him, so he doubled down on his resources.”

National polls point to a potentially competitive race marked by historically low favorability ratings for both Trump and Clinton.

A late May poll of likely Michigan voters released to The News and WDIV showed more than half of all respondents had a negative opinion of Trump and Clinton, who continues to face criticism for what FBI Director James Comey this month called her “extremely careless” use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state.

“Nobody believes me when I say Michigan could be competitive,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, a longtime friend of Clinton’s who said she’s playing a “truth-teller” role and believes Clinton needs to be clear about her stance on trade agreements to win the state this fall.

Dingell, then a Democratic national committeewoman, stayed neutral in Michigan’s 2008 primary during a disputed attempt to move up the election date. Obama and other candidates ended up taking their name off the Michigan ballot, leaving Clinton with a symbolic victory she could not repeat in 2016.

“I think she really knows Michigan issues, and Michigan is a state that matters to her,” Dingell said. “I think it’s why, when she lost Michigan, it is something that’s still very personal to her.”

Memorable encounters

Stabenow first met Clinton in Detroit during the mid-1980s, when they sat on a panel together at a national conference on child abuse prevention. Stabenow was a state representative at the time, while Clinton was first lady of Arkansas who had worked as an attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund.

“I heard her speak and I said, ‘Wow, I really want to get to know this woman,’ ” the 66-year-old U.S. senator recalled. “She was so passionate about protecting children, and we bonded immediately.”

Granholm recalled traveling to Washington, D.C., in the early 2000s to speak at a manufacturing health care forum convened by then-Sen. Clinton, who had co-founded a bipartisan manufacturing caucus.

Ontario Province had begun to manufacture more vehicles than Michigan, a shift Granholm partially attributed to the Canadian government-funded health care system reducing burdens on private-sector companies.

“She was laser focused on this question that we’ve all been struggling with, which was how to help manufacturers make the choice to keep jobs in America and manufacture in America when they’re competing in a global economy,” Granholm said.

“She was very interested in the policy levers that allowed for manufacturers to make that choice, and that thread has sort of wound through a lot of our interactions.”

Another memorable encounter with Clinton came after Obama’s first presidential election, when Granholm attended a January 2009 inauguration party hosted by billionaire Michigan State University graduate Eli Broad. While the mood was celebratory, Granholm used the occasion to discuss her state’s economic woes with administration officials.

“We were right in the middle of it,” she said, referencing the Great Recession and potential collapse of General Motors and Chrysler, which in December 2008 had received loans from the federal government to stay afloat. “Our unemployment lines had broken down because so many people were calling.”

As Granholm bounced between the likes of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Obama economic adviser Larry Summers, the new secretary of state spotted her and approached.

“She looks at me, she gives me a big hug, and she says, ‘I just want you to know the cavalry has arrived. I get it,’ ” Granholm recounted. “She was a big pusher, even though it wasn’t in her lane, for saving the auto industry through a bankruptcy that allowed them to emerge.”