Michigan Democrats are rising up trying to turn a battlefield blue

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) delivers remarks at a student sit-in demonstration at the State Capitol in Lansing, Feb. 15, 2023. (Nick Hagen/The New York Times)

The Michigan governor is considered one of her party’s brightest stars. Her state’s legislature, controlled by the Democrats, is quick to approve a set of ambitious priorities. The Democratic Party plans to host one of its earliest presidential primary in Michigan while the state’s Republican Party is in chaos.

Seven years after Michigan helped cement Donald Trump’s election victory, the state has transformed itself into a new – albeit fragile – flashpoint of Democratic power that has the promise and pitfalls of full Democratic governance in one of the world’s pre-eminent political battlegrounds put the nation to the test.

But Michigan Democrat leaders balk at the idea of ​​their state — once a reliable party stronghold in the presidential years — turning blue again.

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“NO! Michigan is not a blue state,” Whitmer insisted in an interview last week in Bay City, located in a windswept working-class neighborhood near Saginaw Bay, that Trump has won twice. Whitmer also conquered it and sat there and in across the state in the Democrats’ November sweep.

“It would be a mistake for anyone to look at this and think that Michigan isn’t still an undecided, very competitive, very diverse state that will again decide the outcome of the next national election,” she said.

“Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, Michigan’s done; it’s a blue state,'” added Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. “Weak is the key word.”

Against this backdrop — significant victories last fall in a still deeply divided state — state Democrats are pursuing a spate of liberal legislation while measuring the durability of a sluggish coalition that defeated Republicans in the last three elections.

Democratic triumphs have been fueled by moderate suburbanites as well as liberal city dwellers, left-leaning college students and even some former Trump voters who thought their party had gone too far.

“The state Republican Party does not reflect the average Michigan Republican,” Whitmer said, nodding to the Michigan GOP’s sharp right turn. “I don’t think everyone suddenly became Democrats.”

Whitmer has warned against claiming political “mandates”.

But Democrats have chosen to exercise their power, which includes full control of the legislature and the governor’s mansion for the first time in 40 years, focusing on both purse priorities and cultural issues.

They passed a massive tax package, making Michigan the first state in nearly 60 years to repeal the right-to-work rules that had weakened organized labor, to the dismay of some in the business community. They have expanded LGBTQ protections, taken action against gun violence, and lifted a now-unenforceable 1931 ban on abortion.

Whitmer also signed a measure to bring Michigan’s presidential primary up, a move that has been blessed by national Democrats, though it’s unclear how Republicans will proceed.

If this calendar change takes hold, voters across the country once familiarized with the Iowa State Fair may soon become acquainted with the Posen Potato Festival and a Michigan Cheeseburger Festival as the state moves into a position of greater prominence in the Democratic nomination procedure occurs.

Whitmer’s nearly 11 percentage point margin of victory — on par with or ahead of governors in several more liberal states — has only fueled the perception among many Democrats that she is possible presidential material.

However, she insisted that she would not run for president in 2024, regardless of President Joe Biden’s re-election plans. He is expected to run and would have strong support from party leaders, including Whitmer, but has not yet announced an offer.

“I’m committed to the people of Michigan. I will do this job until the end of this term,” Whitmer said. Pressing if there was anything appealing about the presidency later on, she initially hesitated – “No, not at the moment” – before admitting: “I think this country is long overdue for a strong female chief executive. “

For their part, Republicans, who controlled state power levers as recently as 2018, are now helpless and divided. Ahead of the actual Senate race to succeed Senator Debbie Stabenow, a retiring Democrat, the challenge of nominating someone who would both survive a primary and succeed in the general election is becoming clearer by the week.

The state Republican Party is now led by an election denier, Kristina Karamo, who lost her race as secretary of state by 14 points in November, raising doubts about her ability to conduct a serious operation.

“People are concerned that if the incumbent openly slanders the same donors she needs to attract to win the Senate race, she’ll have trouble raising funds,” said Gustavo Portela, a former spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party. “She’s going to have a challenge balancing the base and donors.”

Karamo did not respond to requests for comment.

Just last week, the Michigan GOP promoted an image on social media that compared efforts to curb gun violence to the Nazis stealing wedding rings from Holocaust victims, then defended the posts amid backlash.

“The Michigan Republican Party is dead for the foreseeable future,” said former Rep. Dave Trott, a Republican representing a suburb of Detroit but now considering himself an independent and supporting Biden in 2020. “Even if the right people were in charge, the MAGA movement is such that any candidate who would be more acceptable to a general electorate cannot win the primary.

“If I’m Elissa Slotkin,” he added, “I’m already trying to figure out which Senate building I want my office in.”

The primary and general election for the Senate are political lives away, but Slotkin, a Democratic congressman from a competitive district, currently finds himself in a dominant position in the race.

Several of the state’s highest-profile Democrats have passed a Senate run and given her spot in the primary, though a number of other Democrats — hoping to see greater representation of Black voters, Detroit voters, or both in the race — could still get in .

Among Republicans, perhaps the best-known potential candidate is former Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump. Kevin Rinke, who ran a largely self-funded Republican primary campaign for governor, was also considered a possible contender, among others. Both men lost primaries to far-right candidates last year, who lost in general elections.

Maggie Abboud, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the committee saw “a number of strong potential candidates come forward.”

Certainly, it’s difficult to predict how the Democrats’ strength last fall will translate into 2024. The competitions were disrupted in part by an extraordinary backlash to the fall of Roe v. Wade and a big, successful initiative to enshrine abortion protections in the state constitution — and it’s far too early to tell what issues will be burning next year.

The Democrats benefited from a redistribution process. And party leaders openly acknowledge how quickly the political environment in the state can change.

“We looked at the abyss and decided to work our ass off,” Slotkin said. “Once you sleep on Michigan, it can go the other way.”

Warning signs were in place in Wayne County, home of Detroit and the largest population of Black Americans in the state. Voter turnout was lower in 2022 than in the midterms of 2018.

“We have the opportunity to do more,” said Lt. gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, himself a Detroit native. “I’ve certainly spent a lot of time with black voters and particularly with our younger voters and our black male voters who we need to make sure are very engaged and that we invest in that engagement.”

Still, the party’s gains have been significant, including signs of renewed forays into white working-class territory that has become extremely difficult for Democrats across the country.

“People in my district were outraged by Jan. 6, but if that’s all you talk to them about, you’re not going to win their vote,” said Senator Kristen McDonald Rivet, a Democrat whose seat includes portions of Bay County and who emphasized both economic issues at the kitchen table and abortion rights in her race.

“By showing that we’re tackling real issues that people care about and doing it very aggressively with Democratic power,” she said, she hoped the Michiganders would believe that “voting for a Democrat means that the things get better.”

Democrats “were really demoralized after Trump won, and all of a sudden we’re seeing people coming to party meetings again,” she added. “The Michigan Trifecta has mobilized the Democrats in a way I haven’t seen in a long time.”

But Dingell, the Democratic congresswoman, remains heavily focused on pro-Trump sentiment in the state, and she’s already warning of another challenging election cycle, arguing that the races up and down the ballot will be hard-fought.

“We’re going to be ground zero every race,” she said.

c.2023 The New York Times Company

Source : news.yahoo.com

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