03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Turning Purple: Michigan Voters Indecisive, Overlooked and Just Plain Unaware

Something stinks in Michigan - and this time, with all due respect to a suffering city, it's not Flint.

A little more than two weeks away from this state's January 15 primary, I have yet to hear a single person mention his or her intention to vote.

Not that we have much of a choice.

After Michigan sought to increase its national clout by bumping up its primary (the genius of which is closely mirrored by, say, pushing a Ford Expedition off the cliffs of Pictured Rocks), all the top Democratic contenders - except Hillary Clinton - pulled out. Thus, on the Democratic ballot, Clinton faces off against the ironically-named "Uncommitted" - which, really, shouldn't be too hard as it's what she's been doing ever since Bubba hired his first intern.

On the Republican side of things, Mitt Romney - son of former Michigan governor George Romney - appears to be holding a fragile, single-digit lead over his opponents. Yet for a state perhaps known more for resembling a mitten than anything else, Romney seems to have failed to capitalize on the simplest slogan opportunity since "I Like Ike."

All of that, of course, would assume that we Michiganders actually like Mitt Romney. After all, claiming to have marched alongside Dr. King when in fact, well, he just didn't, doesn't exactly go over too well with a Detroit crowd that's still reeling from the race riots of the 1960's. It doesn't help that nearly all the Romney volunteers I've encountered on the ground here look, um, well, Mormon. Now of course that's not necessarily bad, but when I spent the afternoon at a Michigan gun show in November, I must say I was personally frightened by the well-starched conformity of the Romney camp - which one might have easily mistaken for the "Political Pez-Dispenser" aisle of the local grocery store.

Gee, that's weird - this one can't seem to decide which flavor it wants to dispense...

Down the street from my apartment is the McCain campaign's Grand Rapids office - or at least what's left of it. The building appears derelict and deserted - which may be intended to foster a sense of solidarity with Detroiters, I suppose, although Mike Huckabee's "floating cross" stunt has me seriously questioning the creative ability of this Republican field.

I was at a bar a few nights ago when I encountered a former teacher of mine. She kindly bought me a drink and we sat down for a chat. Over the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I was working on a piece covering the upcoming Michigan primary.

She looked at me blankly.

"When is it?" she asked.

I smiled and told her it was on January 15. She turned to her husband and asked him if he knew the Michigan primary was on January 15. His attention did not shift for a moment from the jukebox as he answered "uh, of course," in the manner of a forgetful husband who has just been asked by his wife whether or not he remembers that their wedding anniversary is tomorrow.

"Sure you did," she said.


We're a strange people in Michigan - so strange, in fact, that certain people have taken to calling those of us that live "below" the Mackinac Bridge "trolls." (I assume those that live above the bridge are just strange by default - after all, a secession bill was submitted to the Michigan Legislature in 1962 by those seeking a 51st state of "Superior.")

Home to both the late Malcolm X and Ted Nugent, the Michigan Militia and Michael Moore, Michigan encompasses a people as unpredictable as the stormy Great Lakes - at times agricultural, industrial, recreational, and Flint. Even before moving forward with its bungled primary shuffle, Michigan was considered a contentious battleground state for national elections, and following the erosion of the labor union vote, the state is a definitively indecisive shade of purple.

Now all we have to do is get the candidates to stop treating Michigan like a "Beautiful Loser."