The national media’s focus is trained on Michigan as polls open tomorrow morning for the state primary election — for two good reasons.
Michigan, more than any other state, delivered President Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 – and by a razor-thin margin. The swing state now serves as an excellent barometer of where politics in Middle America stands in advance of the 2020 presidential elections.
Second, southeast Michigan has emerged as a microcosm of the Democratic Party’s shift to the left over the past two years, with a young, progressive and diverse bloc of voters and candidates taking hold within the party.
The gubernatorial primary has drawn the attention of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, New York Magazine, National Public Radio and the Washington Post.
Over the weekend, Politico.com devoted considerable coverage to the Dems’ gubernatorial primary based on multiple Michigan campaign visits promoting candidate Abdul El-Sayed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a rock star within the Dems’ left wing after pulling off a stunning primary upset in June for a New York congressional seat.
Sanders (spent) the final weekend of the race in the state, and Ocasio-Cortez was there last week to campaign with El-Sayed ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He also has a constellation of hard-left groups in his corner, including MoveOn.org, Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, the offshoot of Sanders’ failed presidential campaign.
After a July lull in primary season, the race in Michigan represents the first opportunity for insurgent liberals to shove Democrats leftward since Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) six weeks ago. Tuesday is also the first real test of the burgeoning alliance between Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez.
Earlier today, Vox.com published a detailed report on the Michigan primary, including a breakdown of every U.S. House election in the state. USA Today has also reported on the Michigan primary.
In addition to Michigan, Missouri and Washington State are holding high-profile primaries on Tuesday. An out-sized amount of media attention has also targeted a neck-and-neck congressional special election in Ohio.
ABC News has projected a spotlight on Sanders’ campaign activities in Michigan, as well as singling out our state for the efforts of several female candidates to become the nation’s first Muslim-American congresswoman.
In Tuesday’s primaries, Rashida Tlaib has gained momentum in a majority-black district, the 14th, where a crowded field is competing to replace disgraced longtime congressman John Conyers of Detroit, who resigned and left the seat open after numerous allegations regarding sexual harassment and ethics violations.
Fayrouz Saad remains an underdog in a neighboring congressional contest for an open seat, in the 11th, comprised of suburban Wayne and Oakland counties.
At the same time, Michigan’s fierce Republican gubernatorial race has also gained some national attention as it represents a measure of the “Trump effect” in a key state. Attorney General Bill Schuette trumpets his Trump endorsement every chance he gets while Lt. Gov. Brian Calley has tried to play down his October 2016 call for Trump to pull out of the race after the controversial TMZ videotape was revealed.
On NBC’s Meet The Press Sunday morning, the network played campaign ads by the two Michigan GOP candidates for Senate, John James and Sandy Pensler, to demonstrate the overwhelming emphasis on Trump loyalties by both contenders for the nomination. James has the president’s endorsement as Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow waits in the wings for her general election opponent.
Meanwhile, leftist commentators have pushed for an 11th-hour surge for El-Sayed even though he has trailed well behind Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Gretchen Whitmer for many months.
The prominent left-wing website The Intercept declared over the weekend that “everything changed” after enthusiastic crowds of progressives turned out for El-Sayed’s campaign rallies with Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders in places such as Flint, Ypsilanti and Detroit.
The Washington Post reported on El-Sayed’s Sanders-inspired bid to provide health care for all in Michigan, while Whitmer has plowed a middle ground, calling for improvements to Obamacare.
To be clear, some of this media attention is not Michigan-centric but instead is based on national leftward trends among young Democrats. In addition, the enticing story angle of a 33-year-old candidate, El-Sayed, vying to become the nation’s first Muslim governor has entranced some media outlets.
The Washington Times declared that the Michigan Democratic primaries are shaping up as a major test of identity politics as liberal activists rally behind black, Hispanic and female candidates.
Beyond candidate-specific efforts to influence Tuesday’s primary, Michigan stands as one of the states targeted by several progressive and conservative groups on the national stage to influence the primary vote, and to boost voter turnout, on Tuesday and in November. The big bucks TV campaign ads by these groups are yet to come.
While exuberant El-Sayed fans have flooded Twitter with propaganda about the candidate in recent days, others on the far-right have tweeted ugly messages claiming that the Muslim candidate wants to impose Sharia law statewide or that he has ties to Islamist extremist groups.
The Nation magazine, a staple of liberal politics for decades, delivered a glowing endorsement for El-Sayed on Friday. David Sirota, a prominent left-wing commentator, devoted much of his podcast over the weekend to our state’s Democratic primary for governor.
Meanwhile, Whitmer and El-Sayed are trying to push aside the third Dem candidate, multi-millionaire entrepreneur Shri Thanedar, as nothing more than an asterisk in the 2018 primary.
Mostly under the radar, Thanedar released an amended campaign finance report on Sunday evening that showed his election fundraising was not $2.1 million, as previously reported, but rather $9.6 million.
In addition, the revised report showed that Thanedar had secretly paid two Detroit radio hosts on the 910-AM talk-radio station to promote his candidacy.
Perhaps rattled by the perceived El-Sayed surge over the past week, a Whitmer campaign memo that became public earlier today tries to set the record straight.
The memo to Whitmer supporters states that the former state Senate Minority Leader has a lead over El-Sayed, based on Real Clear Politics’ polling averages, of 20 points. She also has a multi-million dollar money advantage over El-Sayed for the upcoming fall election while El-Sayed has entirely ignored northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula with his TV ads leading up to the primary.
At its most basic, the progressive media coverage of tomorrow’s state primary amounts to this: The anti-Trump Blue Wave is for real.
Mainstream media coverage points out that Michigan voters may send a message as the intraparty debate continues: Do the relatively moderate, centrist policy views of Dems in Middle America still hold the key to the November midterm elections, or are the leftists from the East and West coasts taking control?
The Nation’s endorsement of El-Sayed offered this:
El-Sayed and his liberal supporters are betting that campaigning on a Sanders-style platform isn’t just good politics in a primary: They’re trying to prove that a candidate can tout these issues and win one of the three states that Trump flipped in 2016.
“Michigan is ground zero for the debate over how you win back power from Trump and Trumpism,” said Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org, which is backing El-Sayed. “And Abdul El-Sayed is the living avatar of the idea that to defeat Trump you don’t move right.”