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Trying To Game Out How Trump Could Win Michigan

By Zachary Gorchow
Posted: June, 14 2016 4:04 PM

Michigan is getting more attention from the national media as a swing state in the presidential election this year, probably more so than at any time since 2004.

On the one hand, this is puzzling. Michigan has gone Democratic in six straight presidential elections, and President Barack Obama’s wins here as an Illinois senator in 2008 and running for re-election in 2012 were not close.

There is talk of a blue wall at the national level for Democrats because of their advantages in the Electoral College. Well, there is something of a blue wall in Michigan in presidential races because, going back to 1996, the Democratic candidate comes out of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties with such an overwhelming lead the Republican has no hope of catching up in the rest of the state.

And yet, nothing is forever. In 1992, Bill Clinton’s win in Michigan, putting the state in the Democratic column for the first time since 1968, felt like a UFO sighting for those who had not been alive when Hubert H. Humphrey carried the state over Richard Nixon. And as we saw in the March presidential primary when Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton, politics can be unpredictable.

I’ll just state right up front I don’t see how the math adds up for Donald Trump to win Michigan, based on the current status of the race between him and Ms. Clinton, and that’s before Ms. Clinton gets the benefit of some consolidation among Democratic voters now that she has vanquished Mr. Sanders.

But, obviously, Mr. Trump and the Republicans will try to win Michigan. Mr. Trump is not trying to lose, at least I don’t think so, though sometimes I have wondered as he does everything he can to ensure 100 percent turnout among Latinos with a historic margin against him and to generally act like anything other than the a nominee for president of one of the two major political parties.

And Michigan keeps popping up in national discussions as a state of potential for Mr. Trump, alongside Pennsylvania and Ohio, the idea being that Mr. Trump’s anti-trade, anti-offshoring views will pay dividends in the Rust Belt. Just last week, CNN was drawing up a scenario to get Mr. Trump to 270 electoral votes, and it involved Mr. Trump winning Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. On Monday, Mr. Trump’s lead Michigan strategist, Scott Hagerstrom, was quoted by both Detroit newspapers at a conservative event as saying Michigan is winnable for Mr. Trump.

So how could Mr. Trump theoretically get there?

For starters, to get Mr. Trump a win in Michigan, he has to do no worse than the best performance by a Republican presidential candidate in Michigan during the Democratic streak, the 2004 race that President George W. Bush lost to John Kerry by 3.5 percentage points (165,437 votes).

That’s a daunting gap. Mr. Bush ran well in many areas, but got buried in Wayne County, which Mr. Kerry won by 342,297 votes. But let’s assume Mr. Trump can at least get that close and not get blown out like Mitt Romney (2012), John McCain (2008) or Bob Dole (1996).

How does he close that gap?

It would start with a lower turnout in Wayne County thanks to population loss and no longer having Mr. Obama, the first African-American nominee of a major party for president, on the ballot.

Could those factors trim 20 percent from the 305,258 votes Mr. Kerry received from Detroit in 2004? Mr. Obama pulled 281,743 some votes in 2012, a decline of 11 percent since Mr. Kerry’s result in 2004, so it seems possible. That would take away 61,000 votes.

Mr. Bush carried Macomb County by a small margin in 2004. Anecdotal reports have Mr. Trump doing well there and he scored huge in Macomb in the Republican primary. Just for arguments’ sake, what if Mr. Trump’s big, brash style appeals to Macomb voters and he wins the county 56 percent to 42 percent? Assuming the usual recent 400,000 votes out of the county in a presidential election, that would produce a 50,000-vote boost over Mr. Bush’s margin in 2004 there.

Now Mr. Trump has perhaps closed the gap by 111,000 votes.

Next, Mr. Trump would have to make good on his supporters’ hopes he can boost the vote with some white voters who otherwise would not vote. Could that be good for say, a half-percentage point boost statewide? That would be about 20,000 more votes, bringing the total gap closure to 131,000.

Finally, Mr. Trump would need disaffected supporters of Bernie Sanders to refuse to support Ms. Clinton. He’s trying to welcome them into his camp. That’s, uh, not going to work. But it’s possible the Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, could do much better than the 21,897 votes she received in 2012.

Could Ms. Stein get something on the order of the 84,165 votes that Ralph Nader got in Michigan in 2000 (with those votes coming from directly from people who would have voted Democratic but refused to back Ms. Clinton)?

That would get Mr. Trump to victory in Michigan.

In other words, it would take a series of major shifts, some improbable, to make it happen.

But it is highly unlikely Mr. Trump will be tweeting after the polls close that he appreciates the congrats for being right on winning Michigan.

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