Obama in Detroit: Vote for Dems "who put you first"

By Chad Livengood and Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Detroit — President Barack Obama told a crowd of more than 6,000 Saturday night that Michigan voters have a chance in Tuesday's election to choose Democratic leaders "who put you first."

"Three days, Michigan, three days until you elect a new governor and a new senator," said Obama, wearing a white shirt with the top button undone and his shirt sleeves rolled up.

Obama implored Democratic Party loyalists to get their friends, co-workers and neighbors to the polls Tuesday to help gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer unseat Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and promote U.S. Rep. Gary Peters to the Senate.

"Tell them to vote. Tell them to vote."

"Tell everybody you know to cast their ballots for Gary Peters and Mark Schauer," Obama told a capacity crowd of 6,012 at Wayne State's Matthaei Center athletic gymnasium. "Don't let somebody else choose your future for you."

As he took the stage, Obama grasped hands with Schauer and Peters. He did not mention Snyder by name or Peters' Republican opponent, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

The second-term Democratic president did not mention Detroit's historic municipal bankruptcy during his 22-minute speech, but implied that Republicans don't care about the Motor City.

"They don't have an agenda for Detroit," Obama said. "They don't have an agenda for Michigan."

The quip drew a response from the campaign of Snyder, who has placed an added emphasis on Detroit during his four years in office by ushering the cash-strapped city through emergency management and bankruptcy, and routinely touting downtown and Midtown's revival.

"Detroit is not a Republican vs Democrat issue; it is a Michigan issue, and the governor has put politics aside to do what is right for the city and our state," Snyder campaign spokeswoman Emily Benavides said after the speech. "The results of the governor's bipartisan efforts to help Detroit are the best in decades as the city is on the road to recovery."

Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak was harsher.

"Mark Schauer has no plan for Detroit, no plan for our economy and no plan for our future," Schostak said in a statement. "Mark Schauer should apologize to the people of Detroit for allowing President Obama to come in and tell such a blatant lie."

Earlier in the day at a GOP campaign event near Kalamazoo, Snyder almost welcomed the president's visit to Detroit.

"I view the president's visit as a good way to show off Detroit," he told reporters. "Hopefully he looks at the wonderful things we've done in Detroit over the last few years and recognizes we brought the city back and it's poised now for a bright future."

Obama said his policies were the right prescription for the country's health care system and economy, especially the federal rescue of two of Michigan's automakers — General Motors and Chrysler — that included sending them into bankruptcy.

"This country has made real progress since the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes," he said, noting the nation has created more than 10 million new jobs and that the auto industry is back on its feet.

Democratic Party stalwarts and statewide candidates warmed up the crowd by pushing the party's campaign strategy of getting infrequent voters to the polls on Tuesday to help take down Snyder and promote Peters to the Senate to replace U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, the Detroit Democrat who is retiring at year's end.

Obama also mentioned the more than 900,000 Democratic-leaning voters who didn't show up to the polls in 2010 when Snyder and the Republicans swept the ticket and took total control of state government.

"We give away our power," Obama said.

In his remarks before the president's speech, Schauer lauded the Motor City.

"Nobody should ever bet against the people of Detroit. If they do they'll lose," he said. "It's great to be with the people who in just three days will decide this election andnd the very direction of our state of Michigan."

Schauer talked about how his dad was a schoolteacher and mom was a nurse and that good-paying jobs come with getting a good education. He has accused the Snyder administration of shortchanging public education.

The tough nerd, he said referring to the governor's nickname from the 2010 campaign, has only been tough on the middle class.

"I remember when we started this campaign 17 months ago. Not many knew who I was or my story," he said. "But today — dead tied in the polls — we stand on the verge of victory."

Schauer said, "We know when Democrats vote..."

"We win," the crowd answered.

The Detroit News-WDIV (Local 4) poll also showed Snyder up by more than five percentage points but a recent different poll showed the governor with a slimmer advantage.

Peters, a Democratic congressman from Bloomfield Township, recounted the gloomy days of Chrysler's near collapse in 2008-09 and touted Obama's cash bailout of the automaker.

"Thank God our president stood up for American workers," Peters said.

Peters also extolled the importance of the Motor City to the rest of the state.

"You cannot have a great state of Michigan unless we have a strong and vibrant city of Detroit," Peters said.

Secretary of State candidate Godfrey Dillard, a Detroit attorney, is trying to become the first African-American elected to a statewide partisan position since Richard Austin's last re-election as secretary of state in 1990. He introduced Austin's widow, Ida Austin, who was in attendance and turns 102 in December.

"I'm trying to follow in the footsteps of Richard Austin," Dillard said. "If a 102-year-old woman can go out to vote, I know you can."

Michigan Republicans greeted Obama's arrival by arguing that the spending of trillions of dollars through the 2009 stimulus package and 2010 Affordable Care Act have restrained the economy's growth — something supported by both Peters and Schauer during his one term in Congress.

State GOP chairman Bobby Schostak called Obama's rally with Schauer and Peters the "Obamacare reunion" and downplayed the president's ability to motivate voters to cast more ballots for Democrats on Tuesday.

"Mark Schauer and President Obama's spending spree continues to derail our economy and country," Schostak said in a statement. "Michigan families haven't forgotten that it was Schauer who brought us the lost decade and helped bring Obamacare to Michigan. If Mark Schauer was serious about his promise, he would have stood up to President Obama when he was in Congress. Schauer's decision to stand next to President Obama truly underscores how wrong he is for Michigan."

Obama shot back at Republican criticism of his signature domestic policy.

"I don't know if you noticed, but Obamacare works," Obama said to applause. "Pretty soon they're not going to call it Obamacare anymore."

An Oct. 22-24 Detroit News-WDIV (Local 4) poll of 600 likely Michigan voters found 48.2 percent approved of Obama's job performance while 49 percent disapproved. The poll had a margin of error of plus-minus four percentage points.

clivengood@detroitnews.com