The general election battle is in the heart of the heart of the country, in the purple belt from Ohio and Indiana through Michigan to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Prophesy who wins Ohio, and you pick a president. For now, because both sides agree that Ohio will require strategic blood and treasure, there is tactical advantage in raiding into Ohio’s neighbors.
On Saturday, Mr. Obama raided into Terre Haute, Indiana in order to pot-shot at Mrs. Palin about change: “Come on! I mean, words mean something, you can’t just make stuff up.”
The more significant raid was by the McCain team on Friday, twelve hours after the close of the roaring Republican convention in Minneapolis. After an ice cream break in suburban Wisconsin, Sen. McCain took Gov. Palin into Macomb Country, Michigan, to the cheerful outdoor Freedom Center in Sterling Heights, home of the dutiful, sturdy, passionate Reagan Democrats of suburban Detroit.
I called up my best source on greater Detroit, the droll Republican Congressman Thaddeus McCotter of the 11th CD, which borders Macomb and is minutes form Sterling Heights. I asked if the Reagan Democrats were attracted to Palin?
“Oh, yeah.” He laughed. “The Reagan Democrats who voted for Bill Clinton, and the small “r” Republicans, the people who earn $30 to $60 thousand a year and vote, they look at her and say, ‘This is one of us.’ She appeals to them like no one has since Reagan himself. The more the media and the Left attacks her, the more the people here like her. When they talk about her family troubles, and her pregnant daughter, and her hunting and religion, the people around here recognize her. They all have these problems and these stories. She’s one of us.”
Mr. McCotter chronicled the voting transition of the middle-class Catholic voters of Macomb and his own Wayne County and nearby Oakland County over the last fifty years. “We, I mean the Republican Party, we kicked them away, those culturally conservative Democrats and the plain working Republicans, we let them go. They were with us once with Reagan. They made the same transition my dad did. They were happy with Truman and Kennedy and Johnson, but then by the time McGovern came along they were disgusted with the Democrats.
“They knew the Democrats were taken over by the liberals, the elites. Reagan was their way out, because he was a kid from Dixon, Illinois, who never forgot his dad was a drunk and he came from small town America. The Left moved into the Democratic Party in ’84, when Mondale and Jackson ran, and just drove the Reagan Democrats away. They trusted Bill Clinton because they could tell he was conservative like them. They could not stand the latent Europeanism, or cosmopolitanism of the liberals. It drove them nuts. They haven’t had anybody to vote for they believed in for a long time. Sarah Palin is their kind. She doesn’t forget where she comes from.”
We talked about the misery of Michigan in general, and how the economic slow down in the country was just now matching the grimness of the middle-class in greater Detroit. Mr. McCotter observed that the GOP was missing an opportunity if it didn’t compare Sarah Palin’s record as a reformer and tax cutter in Alaska with the lackluster performance of Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm in Michigan. “[Granholm] is a disaster. Poverty has increased and real wages have gone down under her, the only state I know like that in these last years. Her response to deficits has been to raise taxes and make it worse. Let Sarah Palin come in here and match her work in Alaska against Governor Granholm’s. Everyone will get it. Everyone will get that Obama is Granholm writ large.”
McCotter does not believe that the recent web ad by another stealthy 527 named the Freedom Defense Fund that links Barack Obama to the now resigned Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will resonate with Reagan Democrats. “Everyone knows that Detroit is broken. It really is a donut here. The voters that McCain needs are in the counties around Detroit, where the Reagan Democrats are. The blue-collar parts of Oakland County, the Catholics of Wayne and Macomb counties. Wayne has Irish and Italian. The Eastern European Catholics are in Macomb. On the Second Amendment, on abortion, on small town values. They’ll listen to Sarah Palin.”
We spoke of the Obama campaign and its effect on the Reagan Democrats. “These people know something is going on, something big. They know there is something not right about Obama’s support. They know that the Democrats around Obama, the Left, that they think we are not the greatest nation. They know the Democrats around Obama don’t want America to be great. The Soros types, the Lear Jet billionaires. That Berlin speech of Obama’s was by a man who believes in the world, but not in America much.”
Mr. McCotter believes the assault on Sarah Palin by the Obama campaign and its surrogates will only strengthen her appeal. “It’s the politics of identity for the Reagan Democrats. When you attack Sarah Palin, you are up against the Gen X cultural conservatives. Not rich people, patriotic people. The Reagan Democrats and the small “r” Republicans, they have been attacked like Sarah Palin is attacked and they don’t like it. Yes, the Sam’s Club Republicans and the Reagan Democrats are much the same. When she is attacked, it is an attack on them.”
The electoral college contest remains the same in 2008 that it was for the Bush, Gore and Kerry campaigns. Mr. Obama, the liberal Illinois Democrat in the George McGovern 1972 tradition, has not altered the battleground states. I was covering the Bush campaign when it tried a purple gambit and sent a thematic delegation of Barbara and Laura Bush and Condoleeza Rice into greater Detroit in October 2000. It didn’t come to anything, and Al Gore held Michigan tidily. This cycle the GOP has the magic when and if the hockey mom with the lipstick is let free in Michigan to bring in the Reagan Democrats.