BLOOMFIELD, Mich.—Not since George H.W. Bush carried Michigan over Michael Dukakis in 1988 has a Republican presidential candidate won the Water Wonderland’s electoral votes. In the 24 years since, Democrats have all swept Michigan with ease. In ’08, John McCain’s high command publicly wrote off Michigan, causing major embarrassment to his instate supporters.
But 2012 will be light years’ different from those races, vows State Republican Chairman Bobby Schostak. In an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS on Sunday, the party chieftain said without hesitation: “The race here is so close that [Michigan’s 16 electoral votes] are Barack Obama’s to lose.”
Michigan is usually considered one of eight states that are critical to electing a President. As if to recognize its importance in the race, Obama toured a General Motors plant outside Detroit in October with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the same time Congress approved a long-stalled trade agreement between the two countries. The White House hopes that … in with reducing tariffs from the U.S. and South Korea, the agreement will help revive Michigan’s ailing auto industry—and with it, the President’s chances of carrying its electoral votes.
A just-completed EPIC-MRA poll conducted for the Detroit Free Press and three major television stations showed that, among likely voters, Mitt Romney would defeat Obama statewide by a margin of 46% to 41%, and Newt Gingrich narrowly trails Obama 45% to 40%.
Anger, Eager Workers and the Tea Party
Schostak explained that the eventual Republican nominee would not consider writing off Michigan in large part because “there is a high level of stress here and anger at Obama for his performance. And you sense the same kind of energy in the intensity of our volunteers.”
As an example of what he meant, the GOP party leader pointed to the recent, much-watched election in Flint (Mich.) that resulted in the narrow recall of Republican State Rep. Paul Scott (the lone African-American GOPer in the state legislature). Recalling how “our volunteers knocked on more than 60,000 doors [in that election], Schostak pointed out that what they heard from voters was “a lot of anger directed at Barack Obama. They feel he promised a lot in ’08, and has hoodwinked America.”
And the volunteers Republicans have traditionally relied on in Michigan, he added, are calling “our headquarters around the state and saying, ‘You’re not giving us enough to do.’ ”
Along with an energized traditional base of party activists, Schostak cited the role of Michigan’s 50-plus Tea Party chapters as pivotal to the eventual GOP nominee carrying the state over Obama. Where the relationship between traditional party organizations and the newer, more outspoken Tea Partiers has been somewhat frosty in other states, it is quite warm in Michigan. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who had neither held nor sought office before his election last year, was backed by several Tea Party organizations in his dramatic primary upset over three established office-holders. Former Ingham County (Lansing) GOP Chairman Linda Lee Tarver, now a state party vice chairwoman, has long had a close relationship with the budding ea Party movement.
“We have a unique relationship with the Tea Party movement—they have a seat at the table,” Schostak told us, “and whether their members are brand-new to politics or have come back after being out of politics for 30 years, they are respected and honored here.” Steve Kuivenhoven, who is based at state party headquarters, works “full-time” with tea party activists throughout Michigan, said Schostak.
In 2010, the coalition of traditional activists and newer Tea Partiers joined forces to give Republicans control of both houses of the state legislature, two new U.S. representatives and a sweep of all statewide offices led by Snyder. The new governor and his team have pursued a conservative agenda that has made major state spending cuts and subjected state employees’ pensions to income taxes for the first time. In Schostak’s words, “Voters are seeing what real leadership looks like. And that contrast with what is coming from the White House will help put Michigan in the Republican column in 2012.”