Susan J. Demas: We know who's going to win Michigan's primary. So let's talk about issues

This column ran in Dome Magazine.


As a Michigan pundit, I’m supposed to tell you that our presidential primary next week is going to change everything. I’m supposed to tell you it’s going to be a nail-biter.

Just like I was supposed to tell you last year that Gov. Rick Snyder was totally going to run for president (and win!).

There’s a often a bit of home-team cheerleading in political analysis and journalism, just as there is in sports reporting. That’s because we know the players and the game –– and tend to overestimate their significance. And, if we’re being honest, a lot of journalists love the idea of playing “expert” on national TV. (I’ve done it plenty of times, and yes, it can be fun).

But sadly, it looks like we’re in for a boring night on March 8. Five Thirty Eight, the mecca of election data journalism founded by East Lansing native Nate Silver, predicts both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will coast to victories. Both have posted double-digit leads in Michigan polling averages.

This should be liberating, however. Now that we have a pretty good sense of who’s going to win the horse race, maybe we can focus on issues (there’s a novel concept!).

Clearly, both parties do believe Michigan is an important state. They wouldn’t have scheduled last-minute presidential debates here otherwise. So here are my ideas for just a few issues candidates should be discussing that are important to Michigan voters:

  • Flint water crisis. This will be hard for presidential candidates to avoid, even though it hasn’t been a big factor, thus far, in the GOP contest. With wrenching stories about women suffering miscarriages and Snyder finally releasing thousands of emails, Flint is still the top story in Michigan. Republican hopefuls should have to talk about what, if anything, the federal government should be doing –– particularly Ted Cruz, who held up a congressional aid bill. On the Democratic side, both Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been eager to pin the catastrophe on Snyder and Republicans, but it would be useful to hear more about their policy solutions for Flint.
  • Detroit Public Schools. The crisis in the state’s largest school district has been overshadowed by Flint, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Some schools have been plagued by “rats, roaches and mold,” as the Washington Post put it, while other buildings are freezing cold due to heating system failures. Teachers have protested these deplorable conditions with “sickouts,” prompting legislative Republicans to propose laws cracking down on unions. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Snyder wants $700 million over the next decade to shore up the district’s finances, even though it’s been under state control for seven years. Talk about a meaty subject for presidential candidates to dig into. It would be enlightening to see who does their homework and can talk about and solutions for the district and public schools in general, and who just relies on ideological talking points.
  • Gun rights. Six people died last month during a mass shooting in Kalamazoo, which garnered national attention. There were significant differences between Clinton and Sanders on gun control, although the latter has moved left during the primary. In a race where there aren’t that many policy contrasts, this remains a meaty one for the Dems. For the GOP field, the Second Amendment is the somewhat rare issue in which there’s strong agreement. But no other industrialized nation has the same rate of gun violence as the United States. How do Republican contenders propose to change that?
  • Jobs, manufacturing and income inequality. In Michigan, it’s always the economy, stupid. Although the recession is over and unemployment is low, economic anxiety remains in Michigan. Trump has made promises he can’t keep, like demanding companies bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas (as if the president can do that via fiat). But what do candidates believe traditionally industrial states like Michigan should be doing to thrive in the new economy? What, if any, help are they offering? And what do candidates have to say about growing income inequality in Michigan and nationwide? This is Sanders’ bailiwick, and Clinton has followed suit, but it’s an issue that GOP hopefuls are rarely pressed on.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.