SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. – With boat docks, vacation homes and quaint shops on the banks of Lake Michigan, this is an idyllic little town.
The area is a mix of farms, agri-business, manufacturing and small business. As a result, it attracts people from all walks of life. Van Buren County has evolved into the ultimate swing county, having voted with every wining president except Carter in the last 15 elections.
“Van Buren County is a swing county because people here, they like problems solvers that are going to get things done,” said Republican State Rep. Beth Griffin. “That’s not a partisan type of frame work.”
On that point, there is agreement from both the right and left.
“It’s kind of an interesting melting pot,” says Wendi Onuki with Progressives United of South Haven.
Wednesday morning, the Golden Brown Bakery smelled like fresh-baked desserts, donuts and coffee. The morning before the State of the Union address, diners who support President Trump hope they hear an upbeat message that celebrates a bounce in the economy and jobs returning nationwide, and to Michigan.
“I hope to hear him talk about the accomplishments that have been made because I don’t think enough attention has been given to them,” said Erin Garnaat.
“We’re already starting to see the benefits from tax reform,” said Robin Peake.
The restaurant as also filled with a significant number of people who didn’t support Trump before the election, don’t support him now and say there is nothing he can do to win them over in one speech.
“He’s gonna have to build action and trust over time,” said Cindy Murphy. “And so far, this year, he’s done one of that.”
“I don’t think we’re going to hear anything new tonight,” Pam Chappel said.
People in South Haven anticipate the president re-visiting promises to invest in infrastructure and highways. Specific to Michigan and the Flint water crisis, David Benac, a history teacher at Western Michigan University, hopes to see funds directed toward replacement of lead water pipes.
“It’s an issue too big for a city to handle on its own. So, this is something where we can step in and do something on a national scale to help millions of Americans,” he said.
On foreign policy, people in South Haven said they are happy with the president’s support of Israel. Some said they want a message of peace through strength.
One Army veteran said he wants Mr. Trump to hold off on the provocative comments.
“I sure don’t want to hear about South Korea,” Monty Brenner said. “Because all he keeps doing is rattling the cage and somebody’s going to pull the trigger.”
Immigration is important in a farming area that, ultimately, employs a lot of migrant labor.
“I think I just want to hear that he’s going to continue on and secure the border,” said Linda Craig.
Another expressed support for the president’s stance on Dreamers.
“I feel the President is taking a step in the right direction by offering a pathway to citizenship for people who really came to this country as small children,” said Kent Brindley.
Mostly, what voters in Van Buren County said is that they want to hear a unifying voice that can bridge the bitter partisan divide that separates the population in D.C. and small towns like South Haven.
“I’m looking for a positive tone. I think the president’s trying to bridge some gaps here,” said Jim Horan.
“He’s trying very hard to unify, but one side doesn’t want to unify,” said John Mathews.
Another residents wasn’t so sure the president is helped bridge the country’s divide.
“It’s polarized,” said Laura Beckwith. “But I’m not sure he’s helped to stop that.”