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Commentary

The candidates come to town

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There was a fair amount of presidential excitement in the Detroit area this week, because both major party nominees came to campaign here just a few days and a few miles apart.

Once, this wouldn’t have seemed unusual. Back at the turn of the century, 16 long years ago, Michigan was seen as one of the three most important states in the nation.

George W. Bush and Al Gore were here so often I used to say voters would choose the one who wasn’t the last to visit, since their trips always caused massive freeway tie-ups to and from the airport.

That year, however, Gore carried the state surprisingly easily – and ever since, Michigan has become more and more reliably Democratic in presidential elections. Republicans start out every four years claiming this will be the year they take Michigan again.

But by the time October rolls around, they look at the polls and bow to reality, transferring campaign resources to other states where they figure their chances are better.

We don’t know if this year will be the same. Polls so far show Hillary Clinton well ahead here, but it is very early. We know winning over white, blue-collar and displaced manufacturing workers is a key part of Donald Trump’s strategy.

We also know that this has been anything but a typical campaign. I would bet that, to mangle a famous quote from Abraham Lincoln, the world will little note or long remember anything either candidate said here this week.

The speeches did give us some key insights into the differences between them. Trump, who spoke before the Detroit Economic Club, gave an uncharacteristically sober speech, much of which could have been given by any Republican candidate in recent decades.

He proposed to “jump-start” the economy by a combination of massive tax cuts and loosening of regulations. He would renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA, and somehow bring the Chinese to heel.

Clinton, on the other hand, went to a thriving blue-collar factory in suburban Warren, and talked about how much progress Americans are making together. And she promised, as a good Democrat would, that she would fight for many more things that need to be done.

These included making childcare and higher education more affordable, big themes from Bernie Sanders' campaign, to fighting to “stop any trade deal that kills jobs or holds down wages,” something that has been a big theme of the Trump campaign.

If there was anything about Clinton’s appearance that was significant, it was that she firmly committed herself to permanently opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal she once favored and which is strongly backed by President Obama.

Trump’s appearance, on the other hand, seemed designed to reassure those who traditionally finance and support Republican candidates that he is not a crazy wild man.

Unfortunately for him, he may have torpedoed any progress he made with his now infamous remark just a day later that seemed to suggest those with guns could stop a President Clinton from making bad appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court.

So Michigan was the scene this week for the opening salvos in a campaign that is now formally under way. And just think – we have almost three more months to go.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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