McCain Pulls Out of Michigan

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Oct 02, 2008 4:53 PM
Just a couple of weeks ago, Michigan was looking somewhat competitive.  As you may recall, I intereviewed John Dunagan, who served as state director for Bush-Cheney '04, about McCain's chances in the state.  At the time, the analysis was that it would be very difficult, but that Palin would definitely be helpful to McCain in the state.

Today, after weeks of bad economic news -- and with McCain falling in the polls -- Jonathan Martin and Chris Cillizza report that McCain has pulled out of Michigan.

I caught up with Dunagan to get his take on this development.  Here's what he told me  ...

Much like its beloved football team in Ann Arbor, Michigan is decidedly blue:

1.       A GOP Presidential candidate has not won MI since GHWB’s landslide in 1988 and relative to the rest of the country, President GHW Bush and Senator Dole under-performed in MI in those 3 way contests with Clinton and Perot in 1992 and 1996, respectively.

2.       In 2006, despite Michigan’s terrible economy and being significantly out-spent, Governor Jennifer Granholm easily defeated self-made businessman Dick DeVos by 14% points (56-42). 

Also, in 2006, Senator Debbie Stabenow defeated a very solid candidate, Oakland County Sherriff Mike Bouchard, by an even wider margin – 16% points (57-41).  Hardly close contests in a “competitive” or “swing” state.

3.       A Republican candidate has not won a competitive top of the ticket statewide election (President, US Senator or Governor) in Michigan since the 1990 victory by John Engler and the 1994 victory by Spence Abraham. (Governor Engler twice won easy reelection bids in 1994 and 98 against little known and/or poorly-funded opponents.)  That is a long time.

What McCain/Palin Needed to Do:

4.       The 3 largest counties in Michigan – Wayne (Detroit), Oakland and Macomb – account for approximately 40% of the vote.  If you add, the next 7 largest counties (Kent, Genesee, Washtenaw, Ingham, Ottawa, Kalamazoo and Saginaw) you’re up to nearly 2/3 of the entire statewide vote (64.1% to be exact).  In other words, the other 73 counties combined , many of which are rural and conservative, only make up just over a 1/3 of the entire statewide vote.  The bad news for all GOP Presidential candidates is that only 2 of those largest 10 are solid GOP counties – Kent and Ottawa (President Bush did win Macomb in 2004 but only by 1.5% or 6000 votes.)

5.       All that to say that to be successful in Michigan, McCain/Palin needed to not only win Macomb again (no small task), but to also out-perform Bush-Cheney ’04 fairly significantly in counties like Oakland (where he needed to win) and blue-collar Ingham (where he would have needed to cut into the 58-42 margin of defeat in 04). 

... A very tough task in a blue state in this “change” environment..