LANSING — Sunday at the Lansing United Automobile Workers chapter, President Bill Clinton spoke to a crowd of 300 in a bid to convince state residents that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton could create economic prosperity in the state .
Bill Clinton’s speech came just two days before the election and is part of a blitz of visits to Michigan from both Democrats and Republicans as the race in the state tightens, including a stop in Ann Arbor by President Barack Obama Monday.
Currently, Clinton is leading Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in Michigan polls by a margin of 4.7 percent, but previously led by a 11.6 percent margin as late as Oct. 21, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. A Republican presidential candidate has not won in Michigan since George H. W. Bush in 1988.
Bill Clinton told the crowd he believed Hillary Clinton would win Michigan easily in a normal election, but acknowledged Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s current momentum, tying it to frustrations about stagnating middle-class incomes after the financial crisis in 2008.
That economic stagnation has been a core part of Trump’s message, especially in typically blue states like Michigan with high proportions of blue-collar workers.
“It’s close to the elections and I believe Hillary will carry Michigan if we turn out — in a normal election, it wouldn’t be close,” Bill Clinton said. “We all know what’s going on, there’s a lot of road rage out there, because after the financial crash, it took a long time before income started going up again.”
In a bid to speak to that frustration, Bill Clinton noted he has been devoted to helping the middle class get ahead, especially during his time in office as president.
“I’ve now spent half my life trying to help people get a job, get a pay raise, save a business, save a farm, get a business loan, get health care for their kids,” Clinton said. “It’s what I’ve done with my life.”
Several speakers highlighted Michigan’s auto manufacturing industry in particular, a key component of the state’s economy. Several years ago, amid the recession, multiple large automakers in Detroit declared bankruptcy and were bailed out by the federal government. Unemployment in Michigan reached 14.9 percent in 2009, though it has shrunk considerably since.
Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard (D), who introduced Bill Clinton, criticized comments Trump has made about the decline of auto manufacturing. Blanchard said Trump’s view of the state of auto manufacturing is inaccurate, citing a recent record number of auto sales.
“We’re dealing with many people who have an alternate view of the truth,” Blanchard said. “For example, a few weeks ago, (Trump) stood out here and said ‘manufacturing is a disaster in Michigan’ … that same week we announced record auto sales in the United States of America.”
Blanchard added that he thought life for workers during Bill Clinton’s presidency was much better than the view Republicans paint.
“When Bill Clinton was president, the Republicans have said it was a difficult era,” Blanchard said. “They are playing the American people for suckers: When Bill Clinton was president we had 24 million new jobs.”
Echoing Blanchard’s sentiment, Clinton acknowledged manufacturing workers’ frustration after the 2008 financial crisis He reminded the crowd that his time in office was one of the only times in history when income rose.
“When I was president, it’s the only time in 50 years when we all rose together; the bottom 20 percent’s income increased in percentage terms, even more than the top 20 percent,” Clinton said. “It was the first time since the advent of trickle-down economics when we grew the economy from the middle out and the bottom up.”
Clinton added that he thought Trump’s rhetoric of anger and division would only lead to greater hurt for the middle class.
“I spent a lot of time doing this. It worked out pretty well for you when I was there,” Clinton said. “I actually believe that answers are better than anger, that empowerment is better than resentment, that cooperation is better than endless conflict.”
He also charged that Trump’s policies would be regressive and would lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations, contrasting them with Hillary Clinton’s plan to create jobs through investment in infrastructure.
“What we need is first to create a lot more jobs that pay above average wage,” Bill Clinton said. “We need a major infrastructure program. Flint, Michigan is not the only place in America that needs new water pipes.”
Speaking to Trump’s tax plan, he said the businessman would cut taxes on big business, enabling business owners, while Hillary Clinton would impose penalties on businesses that unnecessarily move manufacturing jobs out of the United States.
“(Donald Trump) wants to cut taxes for all corporations; (Hillary Clinton) says not so fast,” Bill Clinton said. “I would not cut taxes on people who are making money and they leave the country anyway, I would raise them … I wouldn’t let them send stuff back to America.”
Expressing confidence in his wife’s record, Clinton said he was confident the economy would strengthen under a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“I have been knowing this woman a long time,” Bill Clinton said. “She has never touched anything she did not make better.”