Michigan has long been considered a key part of the “blue wall,” a term used to describe the reliability of Democratic voters in the northern Midwest states. This is a nice sentiment but we in Michigan have a Republican governor (if for only two more months) and a Republican state legislature. So maybe the blue wall only works for nationwide elections — but then we went for Trump in the 2016 election, and the punditry became unusually obsessed with “working-class voters” (read: white working-class voters), with many people writing thinkpieces about Macomb County. The mainstream media was suddenly talking about Michigan, aiming to understand what exactly happened to make it switch from a state that supported former President Barack Obama to a state that supported President Donald Trump, and if that meant it should now be considered more purple-red than blue. Then, Nov. 7 happened, and we elected Democratic women to be governor, secretary of state and attorney general. We flipped two seats in the House of Representatives from red to blue (shoutout to my hometown, 11th congressional district and our new member of Congress, Haley Stevens!). We re-elected Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and we adopted three statewide proposals to legalize weed, end gerrymandering and enact automatic voter registration.
So now what are we? An icon of the resistance against the president we played a key role in electing? Which election was a fluke? Michigan voters have left me with so many questions about my own state. My intuition from growing up here, and from phone banking and canvassing for the 2016 and 2018 elections, tells me that Michigan is neither blue nor red nor even purple. Michigan is a state of families and workers who will vote for who speaks to them and promises to advocate on behalf of their concerns, regardless of party. This might sound like the description of a purple state, but there is nothing random or flip-floppy about Michigan’s voting. One party may speak to Michiganders for a decade better than the other, then become complacent and the other party will step in and prioritize the state. Michigan voters are consistently focused on job creation and infrastructure. So it isn’t our priorities that change, but the messaging of the two major parties.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton famously ignored Michigan in the final days of the 2016 election — a move many saw as fatal not only for the state, but the country. On the other hand, Trump spent his final day on the campaign trail in Grand Rapids firing up voters to show up for him. This narrative isn’t meant to discount the harmful and sensationalist rhetoric of Trump’s campaign that surely invigorated some racists and sexists more than that last visit ever did. But while Trump was talking to said racists and sexists, Michigan’s people of color, working-class families and women were being overlooked.
But then came Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer and so many other new faces in Michigan’s Democratic Party like Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin. They weren’t focusing on partisan drama or strategizing in a manner that abandoned any of their potential constituents. During the primaries, Gretchen committed to visiting every last county in Michigan, not writing any off as a guaranteed win or loss. This strategy paid off, earning her a very comfortable win in the primary and in the general election, and by pulling her state much further blue in the general.
So, what do we do in 2020? Thanks to Proposal 2, the uphill battle against intensely gerrymandered districts will (hopefully) be resolved at that point, making all votes count as they should in a democratic election. This development means a more equal playing field and thus greater room for expanding the Democratic Party’s voters. Therefore, Democrats should not write Michigan off as a win or loss, but send resources to the state and commit to communicating with Michiganders about the issues. Proposal 3 will have an effect on the election as well, presumably by helping Democrats, as the proposal adopted automatic voter registration in Michigan. I hope this will encourage Democrats to focus more on the youth vote, as every citizen 18 and older will be an eligible voter.
We should not take the midterm elections results as proof of a rebuilt blue wall, but rather as evidence that when Democratic candidates make an effort to appeal to and accurately represent Michiganders, they have a true chance at winning their support.
Margot Libertini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.