For 35 years, Macomb County’s maverick voters have stood in the national political spotlight and these past few days have been par for the course as the Tuesday-Wednesday Democratic presidential debates at Detroit’s Fox Theater rapidly approach.
As in the past, political reporters for prominent national media outlets have parachuted into Macomb, trying to decipher its mercurial independent voters and why this bellwether county always seems to be at the forefront of elections in Michigan – and sometimes presidential votes.
CNN came to Macomb and, like many media outlets, focused on the impending closure of the 78-year-old General Motors Warren Transmission Plant on Thursday in the state’s third-largest city. The massive factory’s demise serves as the end of an era in Warren as the state’s auto industry seemingly enters another period of worry and uncertainty.
The Cable News Network talked to blue collar workers and came across Grant Gaither of Warren, a factory worker who inspects steel and aluminum products prior to shipment overseas. Gaither is working seven days a week and can hardly keep pace as he rakes in the overtime bucks.
He was doubtful of Trump’s presidential abilities in 2016 but now sees the strong economy as the overwhelming issue heading into 2020.
“These companies are willing to pay double, triple” time for OT work, the 30-year-old said. “We can’t hire enough people.”
Another Macomb voter, a conservative Republican, told CNN that Trump is a liar and the numerous resignations among his Cabinet and other top administration officials signals disarray in the Trump administration.
“The only thing I like about him is that the economy is doing good, you know?” he said.
Macomb is ground zero
The national media seems to have concluded that the president will have a difficult time winning Michigan again and that Macomb County is ground zero for that test, as the home of the “Reagan Democrats” and a place that delivered the presidency to Trump in 2016. Reporters have found a murky picture at this early stage in the presidential campaign.
Many voters in Macomb expressed dismay that the overly crowded field of Democratic candidates mostly backs giving health care coverage to undocumented immigrants, in contrast to a nationwide priority to fund numerous unmet infrastructure needs.
The county’s voters also said in interviews that they don’t like the push by 2020 candidates for the single-payer Medicare for All, which would result in big tax hikes and the elimination of employer-provided private health insurance that offers coverage to the majority of Macomb’s workers.
Ken Shelton has worked for GM for 41 years, and is considering retirement if he can’t land a job at another plant near his home now that his Warren plant job is disappearing. He voted Democratic most of his life before backing Trump, but hasn’t been pleased with what he’s seen.
“(Trump’s) loyalties lie with the people who got the money, not those that are out here making it,” he said as he pulled out of GM’s Warren plant parking lot.
Still, many blue collar workers are skeptical whether elected leaders of either party have the ability to do anything about the declines in the Rustbelt, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times. They still worry that globalization, automation, lingering trade policies and the weakening of labor unions have left them behind. Reforms do not appear on the horizon.
“I don’t believe it’s on the agenda. I think the table has been set,” said Clarence Heath, who is among the Warren plant’s closure victims after working for GM for 19 years.
Some 2016 voters for the president express so-called “Trump fatigue,” mostly due to his outrageous Twitter messages and controversial statements. Yet, news organizations find that in Macomb there exists far from any consensus for one of the many Dem candidates, including the early frontrunner, former vice president Joe Biden, who some Democrat-leaning voters view as too wimpy so far in the campaign while he tries to deflect criticism from competitors for the party’s nomination.
Trump can still win Macomb again
Meanwhile, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a moderate Democrat who is popular among both parties, maintains his view that no one in the Dem presidential field appears fully capable of reversing Trump’s 48,000-vote margin in Macomb from 2016.
“There’s still a chance for Donald Trump to win Macomb County if Democrats don’t get their act together,” he told Vice News. “It’s going to be a close one.”
As for the economy, all across the state the current situation is good for some and frustrating for others. The county’s unemployment rate was 4.2% in May, up nearly a full percentage point from last year and pretty close to its 4.6% unemployment rate on election day 2016. The state’s economy, while in much better shape than during the Great Recession of 2009-10, also shows weaknesses due to long-stagnant wages for most workers.
A poll commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, released on Friday, found 61% of Michiganders think the U.S. economy is on the right track, but only 36% say their households’ economic situation has improved in the last three years, with 48% saying it’s stayed the same and 16% saying they’re worse off.
Richard Czuba, head of the Glengariff Group, which conducted the polling, said this: “There’s something to this argument we’re hearing coming from the Democratic side that the economy may be doing better, but is it doing better for you? It doesn’t seem to be translating to a lot of individual households.”
To be clear, Macomb still harbors tens of thousands of loyal Republicans who support Trump’s re-election in a big way.
“Our economy is booming around here like it hasn’t been in some time,” Jamie Roe told Vice. A Michigan GOP strategist who’s well-versed in Macomb County politics, Roe previously served as chief of staff for former congresswoman Candice Miller. “There are people here who are thankful they voted for Donald Trump in 2016.”