MACKINAC ISLAND, MICH.—In the fall of 2008, then-Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis and fellow Michigan GOPers voiced public outrage that John McCain’s presidential campaign publicly wrote off the Wolverine State and its electoral votes.
Although no one can be certain whether Obama will face Mitt Romney, Rick Perry or another Republican, it seems a fairly safe bet to say that whoever carries the GOP standard will not be writing off Michigan and its 16 electoral votes next year. Along with a recent EPIC-MRA poll showing Romney defeating Obama by a margin of 46% to 43% statewide, Republicans of all factions gathered here at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference universally agree that the chances are excellent Michigan in 2012 will go Republican for President for the first time since 1988.
“It’s the economy, pure and simple,” Rep. Tim Walberg (R.-Mich.) told HUMAN EVENTS last night. Noting that his state’s unemployment rate is in double digits (11%), Walberg said that Obama and the Democrats were being blamed for this not turning around, “and this was a key factor in the Republican sweep last year of the governorship, all statewide offices and both houses of the state legislature.”
Rusty Hills, who was communications director for former Republican Gov. John Engler and now holds the same post with State Attorney General Bill Schuette, agreed. As Hills told us, “We have a chance to carry Michigan because of the issues of jobs and unemployment. That’s what it’s all about here.”
Dissatisfaction with Obama among reliable Democratic constituencies was also cited by other Republicans as evidence Michigan would go into the GOP column for President next year. Oxford (Mich.) contractor Steve Gould, a top party fund-raiser since the 1980s, shared a story about his younger brother Bill, who works on an assembly line at the Chevrolet engine plant in Genesee County.
“I just know he voted for Obama in ’08, although he hasn’t yet confirmed that for me,” Gould told us. “But now I listen to Bill tell me how he and the other members of [United Auto Workers] Local 659 feel abandoned by Obama and plan to vote Republican next year. “
Gould recalled growing up in blue-collar Genesee County in the 1960s “when there were 79,000 manufacturing jobs. Now there are 7,800 manufacturing jobs in the county—the birthplace of General Motors—and folks there blame this on the failed Democratic economic policies.”
“There’s a shakening and awakening going on here among voters who backed Obama the last time,” said Linda Lee Tarver, ethnic vice chairwoman for the state Republican Party and a former Ingham County (Lansing) party chairman. “They are tired of all the liberal policies, and there’s a sense of buyer’s remorse about Obama himself.”
Tarver, who is African-American, said, “I wasn’t proud when we elected him as the first black President. I thought it was a sad day for America, because I didn’t think he was up to the job. Okay, so we made history. Let’s elect someone this time who just knows what he’s doing.”
Noting that liberal leaders who are black such as educator Cornel West and Rep. Maxine Waters (D.-Calif.) are publicly critical of Obama, Tarver predicted that the President’s ’08 base would “crumble in 2012.”
Fourteen months before the ’12 election, this is difficult to say for sure. But one thing seems certain: Whoever turns out to be the Republican nominee against Obama will not follow the example of ’08 and write off Michigan.