Op-Ed: Clinton wisely calls on Obama to deliver speech

Sunday, November 6, 2016 - 8:57pm

Amid the chorus of tightening polls in Michigan, President Barack Obama will make his fourth visit to Ann Arbor as president on Monday to campaign for Hillary Clinton. The campaign hopes a capacity crowd of 4,000 will be in attendance at the University of Michigan's Ray Fisher Stadium to witness the president's closing argument for Clinton before voting begins Tuesday morning.

No Republican presidential candidate since George H. W. Bush in 1988 has won the state of Michigan, but Clinton's once double-digit lead has narrowed significantly in the past week. Clinton currently enjoys a five-point lead in the state, according to the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls. This mirrors the most recent FOX 2 Mitchell Poll of Michigan that was released Sunday. Despite this solid edge, Clinton's lead isn't insurmountable and the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has some reason to be optimistic. He easily dispatched of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) during the March primary by 12 points, while Clinton was unexpectedly defeated by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) 50-48.

All polling heading into the Democratic primary showed Clinton comfortably ahead, and Trump hopes a similar undervote exists for him in Michigan during the general election. His message on free trade and outsourcing resonates with many Michigan voters, and the campaign has pinned its hopes of a comeback victory by turning Michigan red. Numerous surrogates and a wave of advertisements blanketed the state this last week; Trump has even scheduled a concluding rally in Grand Rapids for late Monday night. President Obama's popularity and positive experiences in the state make him the ideal surrogate for Clinton — a well-received speech from him could help her cross the presidential finish line.

While Clinton's approval ratings are dragging because of questions surrounding her honesty and trustworthiness, President Obama is enjoying some of the best polling numbers of his presidency as he prepares to leave office. Fifty-four percent of Americans now approve of the job he's doing as president, according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll. Similarly, Gallup finds his job approval rating at 53 percent. President Obama has also experienced a tremendous amount of political success in Michigan, carrying the state by 16 points in 2008 and 9.5 points in 2012.

President Obama is no stranger to giving a terrific speech, but explicitly reaching out to millennial voters is the most important thing he can accomplish on Monday. Clinton currently leads Trump among this critical demographic group by over a 2-1 margin, but millennials are notorious for inconsistently turning out to vote. Only 46 percent of this group voted in the 2012 election and Clinton is hoping to significantly raise these numbers. Because Michigan doesn't have early voting, ensuring that millennials are highly motivated to turn out could determine which candidate wins the state. President Obama is especially popular with younger voters, as his job approval rating is over 60 percent with this crowd. Being the father of two teenage daughters enables him to further connect with this target audience and a college campus will provide the perfect backdrop for the president to lay out his final case on Clinton's behalf.

In addition to the fate of Michigan's 16 electoral votes, President Obama's legacy is also on the line during what is likely his last visit to Ann Arbor as commander-in-chief. The fate of the Affordable Care Act and several signature executive orders will be determined by the outcome of the election. A Clinton victory would be perceived in many ways as a third term for his administration and validation of his presidency. This adds an additional layer of pressure to the speech, and Michigan will no doubt be the political epicenter of the nation on Monday.

A Democratic candidate hasn't visited the state this late in the election cycle since John Kerry in 2004. Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman, said this weekend that if Trump wins the state of Michigan, “it's all over.” An unexpected victory here could leave a fatal crack in the Clinton blue firewall and enable a path for Trump to accumulate the 270 electoral votes needed to be president. The Clinton campaign and its chairman, John Podesta, are publicly expressing confidence about prevailing in Michigan, but the dearth of early voting has injected uncertainty into the race and is certainly the cause of so many late high-profile visits to the state. President Obama has been dispatched to ensure that there will not be another major political upset in Michigan this year. He has an excellent track record delivering under pressure and there is no other surrogate Clinton would rather have making her closing argument to voters given the magnitude of the moment.

Aaron Kall is the director of debate for the University of Michigan Debate Team.