Why debate in Detroit? Because Michigan matters greatly in the 2020 presidential raceJuly 28, 2019
By Todd Spangler | Holland Sentinal
FILE - This June 27, 2019 file photo shows Democratic presidential candidates from left, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice-President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., on the second night of the Democratic primary debate hosted by NBC News in Miami. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
DETROIT — This month’s debates at the historic Fox Theatre in Detroit, which will be broadcast live and online by CNN, will give 20 Democratic presidential candidates a chance to score points with Michigan voters.
There is no question that many, if not all, will take it, considering Michigan’s importance as a swing state in next year’s election.
Over two nights on July 30 and July 31, expect each to try to speak directly to Michiganders on topics ranging from health care to water quality, trade issues to the environment, social justice to gerrymandering and appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here’s five reasons why Michigan is so important heading into the debates:
1. First and foremost: Michigan was one of three Rust Belt states, the others being Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which for the first time since 1984 voted as a bloc for a Republican candidate in 2016 and sent Donald Trump to the White House. In Michigan, Trump won by less than 11,000 votes, or about 3/10ths of 1 percent as more than 75,000 people who otherwise voted that year didn’t cast a vote for president. For all of these candidates — especially the top contenders — the debates offer the first chance to start winning back voters and putting those states back in the Democratic column, if they can.
2. Michigan is the unquestioned hub of the American automobile industry, making it central to any debate over the fate of U.S. manufacturing, labor rights and trade issues. Trump, throughout the 2016 campaign and his first term in office, has attempted to dictate policies regarding manufacturing and trade, in many instances taking positions against foreign competition that copied Democratic talking points. Expect candidates to try to reach out to union workers who supported Trump in 2016 and call into question whether Trump’s approach has worked and to argue that he is no friend of labor unions.
3. Five years after a state-appointed emergency manager under then Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration switched Flint’s water supply, resulting in lead levels spiking and causing a public health crisis, the city is still used as a rallying cry against policies seen as not adequately protective of public health, especially in poor and majority black cities like Flint. Meanwhile, Michigan’s central position amid the Great Lakes states also makes it a natural setting for Democrats to talk about the president’s threats to slash environmental funding and money to protect the Lakes, even though this year — at a campaign rally — he suddenly promised to protect it.
4. In last year’s midterm elections, Michigan saw Democrats elected governor, attorney general and secretary of state, and flipped two Republican congressional seats. Many of those candidates talked up bread-and-butter issues that spoke directly to suburban voters: the need to protect access to health care and invest in infrastructure. As Democrats debate whether to elect a candidate with sweeping plans for government-run health care and free college tuition, expect more moderate candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden to begin laying out arguments to appeal to those same voters, all over the Rust Belt, again, while others, like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, try to sway them to broader changes.
5. It’s still extremely early in the campaign cycle and it’s likely a lot of people haven’t tuned into the election yet. But debates in Detroit, with the largest percentage of African-American residents of any big city in the nation, necessarily will focus on civil rights as the Democratic candidates try to reach out to one of their most important electoral constituencies nationwide. Expect complaints about Trump’s racist comments to four women of color who are members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, to “go home” to some other country despite being born and raised in Michigan to serve as a focal point for the need for a change in the White House.