Economy, Jobs Will Remain a Focus for Campaign 2012
Republican debate Wednesday at Oakland University opens a high-profile political role, experts say.
Michigan is an apt spot for Republic presidential hopefuls to debate economic issues Wednesday night.
That topic is Priority One for area residents, and Michigan voters have a key election role next year, area politics specialists say.
"Michiganders want to hear a realistic plan for creating jobs, jump-starting the economy and aiding lower-income and middle-class workers," says political scientist Terri Towner of Rochester, an assistant professor at Oakland University. She'll be in the campus audience when eight Republicans spar from 8-10 p.m. Wednesday at the 1,400-seat O'Rena athletic arena.
The candidates' ninth debate, with a theme of "Your Money, Your Vote," will be televised live on CNBC and streamed at CNBC.com. It's sponsored by the cable channel and the Michigan Republican Party.
Robert Schostak, chairman of the Michigan GOP, called the state "Ground Zero" for the effects of the country's downward economic spiral.
"People feel a sense of urgency about the economy," said Schostak.
They all know the direction of the country is wrong; the economy is floundering."
Michigan's historic role as a pivotal state in presidential campaigns could be stronger if no Republican is dominant early next year, suggests says Steve Mitchell of West Boomfield, chairman of a national polling and consulting firm with his name.
"Michigan has moved its primary up to Feb. 28," he notes. "However, the key to the nomination is in the three earliest states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina."
Towner sees Michigan as a must-win for each party next fall, a familiar role.
"If Republicans intend to take back the White House in 2012, then the state of Michigan must be in play -- along with other swing states such as Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The presidential candidates from both parties must seriously campaign in Michigan."
Replay of 2008 unlikely
George H.W. Bush, who won this state's electoral votes in 1988, was the last Republican presidential candidate to carry Michigan. This time, the state is up for grabs, according to predicts Mitchell, a respected election analyst and media commentator.
"The election will not be a repeat of Obama’s 16-percent win in 2008," he predicts. "Instead, it will be more like 2004 when John Kerry beat President George W. Bush by just 3.5 percent."
A September survey of 600 likely 2012 state voters by Mitchell Research & Communications showed them evenly divided on the president's job performance. Fifty percent disapproved, while 47 percent approved.
That same statewide polling showed Mitt Romney leading Rick Perry, his closest opponent then, by a margin of more than two to one. "Romney is from Michigan," explains Mitchell, who has offices in East Lansing and West Bloomfield. "Romney won Michigan in the 2008 presidential primary. He has very strong support here.
Each of the two political specialists puts joblessness atop the list of pressing economic issues.
"With unemployment still high here," Mitchell says, "Michigan voters are going to be looking for the best candidate to turn around the economy and create jobs."
What scares voters
At the university, Professor Towner agrees. "Michigan’s unemployment rate still tops other states at 11 percent," she said after news last Friday of a slight dip in the national rate to 9 percent during October.
"Oakland County voters are also worried about soaring home foreclosures, failing small and medium-sized businesses," adds the assistant professor, who came to OU in 2007 after earning a doctorate from Purdue University in her home state of Indiana.
"Michiganders want to hear a realistic plan for creating jobs, jump-starting the economy and aiding lower-income and middle-class workers."
Gary Russi, president of Oakland University, said several special classes on campus have been focusing on jobs and the economy and that he expects the candidates to use the debate to unveil the centerpieces of their economic plans.
"We were chosen because Michigan is at the epicenter for job loss. These topics — job loss, the economy — are things we've all lived through," Russi said.
The Michigan Republican Party invites proposed questions "about jobs, housing, the economy, taxes or your money" via an online form or by tweeting @migop with the hashtag #CNBCdebate.
Will you watch Wednesday night? What policy issue is your top economic concern? Tell us in the comments.