Finley: Michigan hosts big dogs of campaign

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

So this is what it feels like to be a bona fide battleground state.

Trump supporters cheer Michigan native Ted Nugent before Donald Trump arrives at his event.

Every presidential election cycle, Michigan starts out on the list of key states that will decide the outcome. But by mid-October, if not earlier, we’re written off as in the bag for Democrats.

Michigan hasn’t supported a Republican for president since 1988, so I’ve usually thought any suggestion that it might be in play was wishful thinking.

But this is the first time the candidates are treating Michigan in the waning days of the campaign as a competitive state, and perhaps even the decisive one.

I don’t recall hearing from the presidential contenders, let alone seeing them, in Michigan at the very end of the contest. But for the past week our airways have been jammed with political advertising centered on the presidential race. And the candidates are swarming the state.

Donald Trump, who was in Macomb County Sunday night, will be in Grand Rapids Monday. Hillary Clinton will also be in the Grand Rapids area Monday, taking her Democratic pitch to GOP territory.

Over the past 48 hours, all of the big dogs of the campaign have been in Michigan. Bill and Chelsea Clinton. Mike Pence. The Trump children. Even Sarah Palin is making a cameo.

If Michigan isn’t ground zero for deciding who will sit in the Oval Office, it must be mighty close.

Nothing is more precious in the home stretch of a campaign than the time of the candidates and their top surrogates. They are not coming here to enjoy the wonderful November weather.

They’ve spotted something in Michigan that has not been evident in the public polling that still gives Clinton a consistent lead. Their internal surveys must show Michigan way too close for Trump to concede or for Clinton to take for granted.

Michigan is a big prize. Its 16 electoral votes could widen Trump’s path to an electoral vote victory. If Clinton were to lose Michigan on Tuesday, it would be a heavy blow to her presidential hopes, perhaps even ending them.

And the campaigns know that Michigan is not an outlier. If there’s an upset brewing here, then it’s also in the works elsewhere.

But if Clinton can keep Michigan in the Democratic column, it muddles the prospects for a Trump victory.

All last week the Clinton team worked to shore up its apparently unenthusiastic African-American base, sending in her husband and others to meet with the city’s influential black ministers. She needs a big turnout of black voters Tuesday to keep Michigan in the blue column.

Trump, meanwhile, is doing the same thing as Clinton, but with a different audience. He’s trying to show skeptical traditional Republicans that he can be a mature president. If he can bring them home to join the new and fervent Trump Republicans, he may end up grabbing a state that by all rational predictors should not be within his reach.

Michigan matters.

This time, it will be our votes that count more than those in places the candidates long ago forgot. Instead of watching the battle from the bluffs, we are on the front line. It’s a moment to savor.