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Politics

Trump, Clinton, and party divides factor into Michigan primary

  • Michigan-Governor-2018-Democratic-Debate

    Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidates from left, Shri Thanedar, Gretchen Whitmer, and Abdul El-Sayed are seen during their first debate on June 20 in Grand Raids, Mich.

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  • Governors-Race-Schuette

    Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announces his gubernatorial campaign Sept. 12 at the Midland County Fairgrounds in Midland, Mich.

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  • Michigan-Budget-11

    Gov. Rick Snyder listens as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley talks about the fiscal year 2018 and 2019 budget recommendation Feb. 8 in Lansing, Mich.

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  • News-Aviation-Museum-2

    Michigan State Sen. Patrick Colbeck speaks at a press conference announcing the groundbreaking of the National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich., in 2015.

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  • Michigan-Governors-Race-GOP-Debate

    Michigan Republican gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, left, and Attorney General Bill Schuette participate in the GOP's first debate in Grand Raids, Mich.

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  • Michigan-Governors-Race-GOP-Debate-1

    Republican gubernatorial candidates Dr. Jim Hines, left, and Michigan state Sen. Patrick Colbeck partake in the GOP's first debate in May in Grand Raids, Mich.

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Michigan voters will choose candidates for governor, Congress, U.S. Senate, and down-ballot offices Tuesday, roughly 100 days out from a midterm election in which President Trump — and even Hillary Clinton — loom large.

The governor’s contests are the most crowded and closely watched races in Michigan for the Aug. 7 primary. Like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, is term limited and can’t run again.

Fighting to join the Democratic ticket are former Detroit health department director Abdul El-Sayed, entrepreneur Shri Thanedar, and former state Senate Majority Leader Gretchen Whitmer — with the latter considered the front-runner.

The four-way GOP race features Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, and obstetrician Dr. Jim Hines.

Mr. Schuette has been endorsed by President Trump, while Mr. Calley has the backing of Mr. Snyder. Leading in recent polls, Mr. Schuette is using his endorsement from the GOP standard-bearer to drum up support across a state the President just barely won in the general election.

“Trump is a huge factor in the Republican primary,” said political analyst Bill Ballenger of the Ballenger Report. He said President Trump is no longer considered the liability he was before winning the election.

“Two years ago at this time, a lot of people in the Republican Party were uncomfortable with Trump. He made them nervous,” Mr. Ballenger said. “Now it’s become a question of who is the most pro-Trump candidate. If Trump has endorsed you, then that’s a big deal.”

Likewise, Hillary Clinton is still a measuring rod in Democratic contests. Democrats are seen as either moderate, establishment liberals, like Mrs. Clinton, or as Bernie Sanders progressives, Mr. Ballenger said — and voters will decide between the two.

In Michigan, Mr. Ballenger pointed to former intelligence official Elissa Slotkin, who is running in the 8th congressional district, as a Clinton Democrat. She is competing for the spot on the ballot against Michigan State University professor Chris Smith, who is seen as more progressive. The winner will face Republican incumbent Mike Bishop in the southeast Michigan district.

Even with polls pointing to clear favorites in many races, analysts are reluctant to forecast winners since the President’s historic upset in 2016.

“If ever there was a year to be careful making electoral predictions, this may be it,” said Tom Ivacko, associate director for the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “There are so many dynamics in play it is hard to know which will be decisive, or in what ways.”

Still, he said, the President’s endorsement appears to have helped candidates running in Republican primaries in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, California, and New York.

In Michigan’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, President Trump endorsed John James over Sandy Pensler. The endorsement could prove to be a deciding factor, as polls show a toss-up between the two businessmen. The winner will challenge Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow.

“This feels like a case where Trump's endorsement could help tip the scales, given his apparent influence in other Republican primaries around the country,” Mr. Ivacko said. “However, every day seems to bring some new incredible news out of Washington, D.C., with Trump engaged in wild swings back and forth on a wide range of issues. Agriculture is a major piece of Michigan's economy, especially in Michigan's rural, Republican-dominated areas, and Trump's tariff war isn't helping farmers at the moment.”

As far as bellwether areas to watch in the general election, look to the 7th congressional district bordering northeast Ohio, said Dr. Joe Schwarz, who was elected as a Republican to represent the district in 2004 and served one term. He now considers himself an independent.

The district has historically been conservative but could be flipped in November, he said. U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R., Tipton) will face a challenger in either Steven Friday, who considers himself a “Berniecrat,” or Gretchen Driskell, a moderate Democrat.

“That’s traditionally been Republican territory,” Dr. Schwarz said. “But that district has one of the best opportunities to flip.”

Michigan primary voters will find more races down-ballot for state representative and state senator. Republicans are expected to retain a majority in the Michigan Legislature in the November general election.

Voters in Ohio-adjacent Lenawee County will also decide whether to reauthorize a tax to raise $635,000 for the Lenawee Medical Care Facility.

In Monroe County, voters will decide on increasing the surcharge for 911 calls from 42 cents per device to $2.

Contact Liz Skalka at lskalka@theblade.com, 419-724-6199, or on Twitter @lizskalka.

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