Michigan, the ancestral home of so-called "Reagan Democrats," is back to its old ways. The Great Lake State is filled with blue-collar workers stung by the ailing economy but wary of Democratic stands on social issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control.
President Bush and Democratic Sen. John Kerry (search) have different approaches in courting the same voters.
Kerry hopes to make the election about the state's 6.8 percent unemployment rate, and the 194,000 jobs lost since Bush took office, including nearly 167,000 in manufacturing.
The Republican incumbent is appealing to conservative Democrats, particularly Catholic voters, in suburban Detroit and along Interstate 75 in rural and urban areas just north of Flint.
In addition, Bush is trying to increase turnout among GOP voters, a strategy that might be helped by a proposed amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot that would ban gay marriage.
Bush has visited the state at least 20 times as president, mostly in GOP-leaning areas outside Detroit and in western Michigan. The Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula are more Republican than four years ago, which explains why Bush was the first sitting president to visit Marquette since William Howard Taft's 1911 trip.
Kerry probably can't win the White House without Michigan's 17 electoral votes because it's one of the more Democratic-leaning states of the dozen or so battlegrounds. He could lose votes to independent Ralph Nader (search), who Republicans helped put on the ballot.
Democrat Al Gore won Michigan by 5 percentage points. Democrat Bill Clinton won the state in 1992 and 1996.
By the Numbers:
17 — number of electoral votes
6.8 percent and 4.6 percent — unemployment now and when Bush took office
94.7 — percentage of Detroit vote Al Gore won in 2000
85 million — pounds of tart cherries produced in Michigan this year
"There's a lot of angry workers in the United States, at least in the Michigan area," says Phil Godard, a 60-year-old electrician from Warren who has not worked full time since September 2003. "He (Bush) has done absolutely zero. Nothing."
"A lot of Democrats have been disappointed in the direction the Democratic Party has taken in the last couple years about ... bowing down to gays and lesbians. The Republicans don't feel like they need that ... and they're doing just fine," says Jaime Johnson, 45, an ironworker from Birch Run who is socially conservative but will vote for Kerry because of economic and health care issues.
"Bush represents arrogance, bullheadedness and intimidation," says Traverse City resident Kathleen Hoagg, 46. "He's made the country more divided than it ever has been and it's scary."
"I just fully believe in his policies," Michael Powell, a 37-year-old Republican accountant from Royal Oak, says of Bush. "He's very strong-willed, especially with this war on terror and his economic policies. And his integrity is at the highest level."
The Michigan Republican Party has tried to scare Michigan voters from voting for Kerry through its "Endangered SUV Tour" and a radio ad.
A portion of the ad says: "If you drive a pickup truck or an SUV, take good care of it. It might be the last one you'll ever own. Democrats in Washington are using junk science to push unreasonable mileage restrictions on new vehicles. It's a backdoor plan to outlaw trucks, vans and SUVs. Economists predict that if this crazy scheme becomes law, Michigan would lose 130,000 jobs."
The United Auto Workers international union, which has endorsed Kerry, has 250,000 members and 100,000 retirees in Michigan.
What to Watch on Election Night:
Statewide ballot issues, one limiting marriage to a man and a woman and another that would require certain types of gambling to be approved by voters at the state and local level, could increase turnout among Republicans, conservative Democrats and independents, helping Bush's chances.
But that may be offset by a higher-than-usual turnout among overwhelmingly Democratic Detroit voters choosing what kind of a board should replace a highly controversial state-imposed board to oversee the city's public schools. Republican lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to move the issue from the November election to the August primary because of fears that higher Detroit turnout will help Kerry.
In Michigan Four Years Ago:
Strong get-out-the-vote efforts by unions and black political groups helped Al Gore win Michigan and allowed Democrat Debbie Stabenow to narrowly defeat Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham. The UAW sent out 2 million pieces of campaign literature in Michigan in the weeks before the election, encouraging members to vote for Gore on their first-ever Election Day holiday.