10/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Michigan: The Key To Election 2008

"If he carries Michigan, many routes to victory are open for Barack Obama. Without Michigan, he's got a big problem," said E. J. Dionne Jr in the Washington Post. "Michigan could be to this election what Ohio was in 2004 and Florida was in 2000."

Michigan voters are angry, and they blame both parties. "What's challenging about Michigan is that they've suffered this economy in its worst form," said Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has studied the state for years. "They blame the Democratic governor and the Democratic Party, and the Republican president and the Republican Party."

Michigan is suffering. It has the nation's highest unemployment rate -- nearly 9 percent. It has the highest housing foreclosure rate. Thanks to the financial meltdown on Wall Street, would-be franchisees can't get loans to open pizza stores. And the domestic automotive industry -- already in free fall -- will need a miracle to hold on even longer.

"In most recessions, by the time you're in them, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In Michigan, you can't," said Van Conway, a Birmingham, Mich., restructuring expert.

No wonder John McCain and Sarah Palin held their first joint town hall meeting in Grand Rapids, a solidly Republican city with a large constituency of conservative Christians. The choice of Palin has been helpful to McCain in western Michigan, where they greet her with cheers of "Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!" In addition, the Palin family loves snowmobiling, and Michigan has the largest number of registered snowmobiles in the country -- more than 300,000, according to the American Council of Snowmobile Associations.

Michigan looms large in '08 because it will be exceedingly difficult for Obama to assemble an electoral college majority unless he holds virtually every state carried by John Kerry four years ago, and Michigan is the most vulnerable of the big Kerry states. "Michigan is the key to the whole map," said Greenberg.

Most polls give Obama a small lead in Michigan, but he has special problems here. Because of the Democrats' wrangle over delegate rules, Obama did not campaign in the state's primary. Also, Republicans are trying to link Obama to Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, whose popularity has suffered with the economy. Saul Anuzis, Michigan's Republican Party chair, likes to say, "If you like what Granholm has done in Michigan, you'll love what Barack Obama will do for America."

Obama is hoping to win a huge African American vote in once mighty Motown, but it's not going to be easy. The city's politics are in turmoil following Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's departure from office as part of a plea agreement related to perjury charges. For Obama to win in Michigan, "people have to understand that he is going to put people back to work," said Democratic State Senator Debbie Stabenow.

"We are not going to leave the workers in Michigan hung out to dry, while we give billions in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street," said McCain


Check out OffTheBus' examination of the policies proposed by Barack Obama and John McCain related to the automotive industry and how those policies might impact voters in Michigan.