There’s something going on out there in Macomb County.
Once the most Democratic suburban county in America – as a result of John F. Kennedy’s big win there in 1960 – the county slowly evolved into the “home of the Reagan Democrats” in 1984. The Democrats regained some ground after that but on Tuesday night it became indisputable that Donald Trump’s 2016 decisive win in Macomb was no fluke, and that the GOP has taken hold in nearly every corner of the county.
On Election Day, the Republicans took control of the 13-member county Board of Commissioners for the first time ever. They posted victories in four of the five races for countywide office. The new prosecutor is state Sen. Pete Lucido, the newly elected clerk is former state representative Tony Forlini, Treasurer Larry Rocca comfortably won re-election, and Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller breezed to another 4-year term. The lone Democratic survivor, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, considered a shoo-in for re-election just a few months ago, faced a relatively close contest against his much lesser-known GOP foe.
For perspective, the Dems had previously held all five countywide seats continuously from 1994 until 2016. At some points in the past, when the Board of Commissioners was larger, Democrats’ dominance led to a 24-1 advantage in board seats.
On Tuesday, Trump surprised many political observers by posting a winning margin in Macomb that wasn’t far off from 2016 when he trounced Hillary Clinton by a 54-42 percent gap. This time, the president’s advantage over Joe Biden was 53-45 percent.
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican John James got a nice boost in Macomb over Democratic incumbent Gary Peters, carrying the county by 5 ½ points.
Up and down the ballot, Republican candidates benefited from straight-ticket voting, which amounted to 50,000 more straight-ticket GOP ballots cast than four years ago. With a 72 percent voter turnout countywide, it seems apparent that the Republicans enjoyed an “enthusiasm gap” advantage over the opposition party.
The changing fortunes in Macomb are especially apparent when looking at vote tallies going back to the 2012 election, when Barack Obama carried the county by a 16,000-vote differential over the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan duo, a GOP ticket that was viewed as rather lackluster by many Republican voters.
In 2012, Obama narrowly won St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights. He carried Mount Clemens and Roseville each by roughly 2-1 margins. The Democratic president also prevailed in Clinton Township and Fraser.
Four years later, Trump flipped the vote in Clinton Township, Fraser, St. Clair Shores and Sterling Heights. In Mount Clemens and Roseville, the margins narrowed.
On Tuesday night, those trends continued. In Sterling Heights, the president came out on top by a substantial 8,000 votes and the Republican wave led to the ouster of Democratic county Commissioner Rob Mijac, who has represented northern Sterling Heights for 24 years. Even former city councilman Paul Smith, a Republican who is widely criticized as a bigot and a bully, somehow managed to secure a bit more than 47 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful bid for a state House seat.
Macomb’s political personality has taken on some major changes, with the middle section of the county much more conservative than in the past few decades.
The north vs. south dividing line between Republicans and Democrats once was Hall Road. Over time, Macomb’s political version of the Mason-Dixon line drifted south to about Metropolitan Parkway.
Now, it appears that the only sure Democratic strongholds are located below 14 Mile Road, in places like Warren and Eastpointe. The Democrats are headed south, unless they change their path.