Michigan in national news: Focus on rural voters, 1 of just 4 swing states?

President Donald J. Trump at the Centre de Congrés Bellevue Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, in Biarritz, France, site of the G7 Summit. | Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Flickr

Is it 2020 yet? No, but it might feel like it, as Michigan remains the subject of intense national focus for next year’s presidential election.

Susan J. Demas graphic

Reuters puts the spotlight on rural voters, particularly those in the Upper Midwest who are hurting from President Donald Trump’s trade policies. Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Dan Balz believes Michigan is one of just four states that will determine the presidency, along with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida.

And finally, the Post looks at what the only independent in Congress, West Michigan’s Justin Amash, is really up to for 2020.

It’s all part of the Advance’s semi-regular roundup of Michigan in the national news.

Rural voters

The conventional wisdom is that rural voters still have Trump’s back, thanks to his slew of anti-immigration policies. But Tim Reid and Joseph Ax report the reality from the ground for Reuters.

Canva photo

Democratic candidates are targeting rural voters who broke hard for Trump in 2016, while the president is stressing his $16 billion aid package for farmers to offset fallout from bad weather and his trade policies.

Democrats point to last year’s congressional elections, where the party increased its share of the vote from 2016 in at least 54 districts with large rural populations, as a sign that Trump’s grip on rural America may be loosening.

Even a small erosion in Trump’s support among rural voters could make a difference in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where Trump won by razor-thin margins in 2016, Democratic strategists say.

Trump won by a combined total of just 77,000 votes in the three states.

Trump’s trade war with China hits home in Michigan

Amash comes of age

Post reporter Ben Teris starts out with an amusing lede on Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) after trailing him last month at some West Michigan events:

There comes a time in a young man’s life when things begin to change. Muscles develop. Relationships get complicated. He starts seeing himself differently, trying to figure out where he fits in. It can be confusing, thrilling, shameful.

For Justin Amash, 39, that time is now.

In recent weeks, the Trump-wary congressman split with the Republican Party to identify as an independent; he’s been criticized by his closest colleagues and developed a pumped-up physique that has people asking whether his new workout routine is about getting camera ready for a third-party presidential run.

Amash shows libertarian leanings on guns, campaign finance

The story is filled with tidbits about Amash’s one term in the state House, as well as his political evolution, with Amash admitting, “I used to be more inclined to think Democrats are bad; Barack Obama is uniquely bad or whatever. Over time, I’ve come to see I was too harsh in many ways. I feel like I’m a better person today.”

The piece inevitably turns to Amash’s flirtation with a Libertarian presidential bid next year, with him saying, “It’s obviously something that is realistic. If someone were to do something like that, there’s obviously a good chance it would be me. . . . It’s something I could decide to do.”

That’s sure to keep the speculation going.

The big 4

Is the 2020 map the smallest in years? That’s Balz’s hypothesis and he believes that Wisconsin might prove to be the most pivotal state.

However, poll analyst Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight (an East Lansing native), tweeted over the weekend that he believes there are many potential swing states including Arizona, Ohio, Nevada and Texas (and the second congressional district in Nebraska, which splits its electoral votes).

In his column, Balz runs through Michigan’s 2016 and 2018 electoral history:

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Susan J. Demas

Of the northern states, Trump won Michigan by the fewest number of votes, just 11,000. Between 2012 and 2016, the Democratic vote badly eroded, with Clinton falling about 300,000 votes short of Obama’s total, including about 75,000 fewer in Wayne County, which is home to Detroit.

… Bitterness lingers among Democrats in Michigan over the 2016 campaign and how it was played by Clinton’s team. The 2018 midterms since have given Democrats some cause for optimism. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recaptured the governor’s mansion and the party picked up two congressional districts.

Balz talked with longtime Democratic strategist Amy Chapman and pollster Richard Czuba and writes that for 2020, “Democrats also have opportunities in some outstate areas. Kent County, home to Grand Rapids, is one area of Democratic growth. Other prospects include higher-educated counties such as Grand Traverse along Lake Michigan and Midland in the center of the state.”

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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