Detroit (Great Lakes News) – Some pundits and media outlets think the 2020 election could all hinge on Michigan. The New York Times wrote as much last week. But despite Michigan’s critical role, it was scarcely mentioned by the candidates in last night’s Democratic primary debate. Candidates focused a majority of their time on national issues and mostly mentioned Michigan in passing, with a few notable exceptions.
The night began with strong Michigan representation when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer took the debate stage to welcome the audience to her home state and establish its importance in the 2020 election.
“The path to the presidency goes through the Great Lakes State, the State of Michigan,” Whitmer said before returning to her campaign mantra: “We’re going to fix the damn roads.”
Michigan DNC chair Lavora Barnes followed Whitmer and layed out the Democratic plan for 2020 and assured the audience that Michigan Democrats were “Ready.” After Lavora came the national DNC chair Tom Perez who had a few words to say about Michigan’s role in the Democrat’s perceived victory in the 2018 midterm elections, but little else.
When the debates began in earnest former Gov. John Hickenlooper mentioned Michigan in his opening statement, but only to punctuate his call to action.
“Now, some will promise a bill tonight or a plan for tonight,” Hickenlooper said. “What we focused on was making sure that we got people together to get things done, to provide solutions to problems, to make sure that we — that we worked together and created jobs. That’s how we’re going to beat Donald Trump. That’s how we’re going to win Michigan and the country.”
Representative Tim Ryan was the next to mention Michigan, first in relation to the healthcare and then during the immigration portion of the debate where he claimed to have visited an ICE detention center in Grand Rapids.
“Right now, if you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell,” Ryan said. “We have asylum laws. I saw the kids up in Grand Rapids, not far from here. It is shameful what’s happening.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders brought attention to his victory in Michigan during the 2016 primary which he claimed he could translate into a victory in Michigan if given the presidential nominee.
He also mentioned the impact of NAFTA on Detroit manufacturing jobs in retaliation to former Rep. John Delaney’s claims that Detroit was seeing economic improvement because “the government and the private sector are working well together.”
“Detroit was mentioned,” Sanders said. ”And I’m delighted that Detroit is rebounding. But let us understand, Detroit was nearly destroyed because of awful trade policy which allowed corporations to throw workers in this community out on the streets as they moved to low-wage countries.”
Sander’s progressive counterpart Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a more direct appeal to Michigan voters by claiming her “Green Manufacturing Plan” would create jobs in Michigan and other midwestern states by investing trillions of dollars into green infrastructure.
“So I’ve proposed putting $2 trillion in so we do the research,” Warren said. We then say anyone in the world can use it, so long as you build it right here in America. That will produce about 1.2 million manufacturing jobs right here in Michigan, right here in Ohio, right here in the industrial Midwest.”
The Flint water crisis offered perhaps the most memorable Michigan-related moment of the debate. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke made a passing reference to visiting Flint last week, but Sen. Klobuchar was asked a direct question about the crisis. Klobuchar made a commendable attempt to answer the question, even referencing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “fix the damn roads” slogan, but author Marriane Williamson’s response made for a Michigan highlight.
“Flint is just the tip of the iceberg,” Williamson said. “We have an administration that has gutted the clean water act. We have communities, particularly communities of color and disadvantaged communities, all over this country who are suffering from environmental injustice. I assure you I lived in Grosse Pointe, what happened in Flint would not have happened in Grosse Pointe.”
Marianne Williamson became the most-searched candidate in the wake of the debate.
There was no mention by the candidates of the USMCA, outside of Warren referring to the trade deal as “NAFTA Two.” The Great Lakes and their preservation made no appearance despite the prodding of Govs. Gretchen Whitmer and Jay Inslee.
Ten more candidates will have an opportunity to bring Michigan into the spotlight at tonight’s debate. You can watch the debate on CNN and at CNN’s website without a cable subscription. Check out our pre-debate primer for what to expect tonight and follow Great Lakes News on Twitter @GLNnews for live updates.