Kaufman: What do Michiganders think?

Polls are tighter than Democrats, who have now spent over $20 million in Michigan, anticipated.

Ann Arbor, Michigan.

After publishing a dozen state analyses since June, I thought I was finished reporting for the election season, but realized I hadn’t covered Michigan. I talked to some Michiganders way back in August, but with a crucial presidential contest and surprisingly close U.S. Senate race, let’s revisit the state.

Republican nominee John James has been called a rock star by pundits. The West Point graduate and retired U.S. Army captain is still under 40. A former helicopter pilot, who now helps run the family shipping business, he takes a second stab at a senate seat after losing two years ago. James is running a down-to-earth, mainly non-partisan campaign.

Incumbent Sen. Gary Peters, 61, has been in politics for three decades, yet probably is one of the least-known senators in America. Chris Stirewalt recently called him a “nullity.”

Though fairly bipartisan by today’s standards, he represented two heavily-Democratic districts before running for the upper chamber six years ago.

Polls are tighter than Democrats, who have now spent over $20 million in Michigan, anticipated. Even the New York Times confessed that, “If James wins, it will be an embarrassing blow for Democrats in a state they assumed would be a lock.”

That’s because Michigan is traditionally blue. While the two of three governors before Gretchen Whitmer were Republican, Michigan has elected only one GOP senator the last 40 years; Democrats also flipped two U.S. House seats in 2018. No Republican presidential nominee since 1988 won the state until President Donald Trump did so by 10,000 votes four years ago. He’s consistently trailed Joe Biden this year, however, especially among Michigan’s seniors.

An acquaintance in left-leaning Ann Arbor is an auto industry retiree.

“The presidential contest here appears to be much like the rest of the country. Trump fatigue will carry the day for Biden. Trump supporters are usually closed mouth so, like 2016, this is hard to predict,” he said. “A closer, dirtier, more expensive contest is going on between James and Peters for Senate. James, heavily backed by Super PAC money, runs two distinct types of ads. The ones he appears in with his family are as a political outsider. The Super PAC ads are generally false and somewhat ridiculous.”

A 50-year-old friend in the southwest Michigan town of Niles works as a consultant.

“Now, more than ever, there is a culture war going on and people feel the media has lost its soul and can’t be trusted,” he explained. “Trump, despite his flaws, keeps his political promises, and the anti-capitalist message from the media is in contrast to real wages going up pre-COVID. Many people won’t say they are voting for Trump publicly around me, but will do so.”

Detroit, Michigan.

Team Trump hit the Wolverine State hard in October. Eric Trump made multiple campaign stops, including Oct. 20 in Lansing, where he said the polls are wrong, claiming, “I think you’re going to see a bigger win this time than in 2016. I mean that. And I was on the ground in 2016, and I know what the enthusiasm was like.”

Vice President Mike Pence spoke northwest of Detroit last Thursday. Donald Trump Jr. appeared in the Upper Peninsula mining town of Calumet the same afternoon. The president rallies in Lansing Tuesday. Biden spoke in Detroit Oct. 16.

Michigan presents a tricky map. It’s not a simple urban-rural divide. You have wealthy suburbs, inner cities, college towns, industrial regions, lush farmland and the remote UP. Check the diversity of the vote in 2018.

Last week the New York Times opined on the senate race thusly:

“Mr. James has been constrained and reticent in his criticisms, mindful that pushing back too hard could offend Mr. Trump’s intensely loyal base. And as a candidate vying for the support of nonpartisans in a state that has trended away from Mr. Trump since he won four years ago, Mr. James has strained to prove his independence.”

 James, who outraised Peters every quarter this year, clearly wants Biden voters to cross over and support him. But with nearly half the electorate deciding to cast early votes, who knows?