Detroit (Great Lakes News) – With Michigan at the center of the political universe, the nation will turn to the Fox Theatre for the second Democratic primary debates next week. Michigan’s 16 electoral votes going to President Donald Trump tied the state to national politics in an inseparable way, surprising pollsters and pundits alike. Not only are the president and democratic hopefuls bringing attention to Michigan, but our own Rep. Rashida Tlaib remains a fixture of the news, the NAACP convention in Detroit unanimously voted in favor of a resolution to impeach the president, and Miss Michigan lost her tiara for comments she made on Twitter. Most of the front-runner 2020 Democratic candidates have already visited Michigan and donations to local candidates like Gary Peters show just how important of a role Michigan plays in the DNC’s 2020 strategy.

As Democrats continue to focus their energy on Michigan, the opportunity to speak directly to Michigan voters on a national stage is everything they could hope for. Expect the candidates to focus on issues that affect Michiganders and use this handy guide to prepare for the most likely nods to the Great Lakes State.

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Rashida Tlaib, Rashida Tlaib, Rashida Tlaib.

Everyone. Is. Talking. About. The. “Squad.” And the Democratic presidential candidates are no exception, with candidate after candidate denouncing the president’s attacks against the four freshman congresswomen as racist. The rivalry between the president and “The Squad” seems nowhere close to cooling down. Trump spoke at the Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit about the tension, calling Rep. Rashida Tlaib “vicious” and “a crazed lunatic” and claiming that “”There’s no way she stands for the values of the people of Michigan.”

With the 2020 Democratic candidates already making a point of showing support of The Squad, expect them to mention Tlaib by name. The opportunity to tie themselves to a vocal opponent of the president without necessarily supporting all her policies is too good of an opportunity to pass up. Candidates who appear more moderate, like Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden, have even more to gain by appealing to supporters of The Squad without tying themselves to their platform.

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her battle with Trump’s economy comes to Michigan.

Where many consider the economy to be the Republican’s greatest asset leading up to the 2020 election, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is doing everything she can to flip the script. Polling shows that roughly seventy-one percent of Americans think the economy is in a good place, with a majority believing the president should take credit for the uptick. Arguing against this perceived boom, Warren is painting a bleak picture of the economy.

“I think of it this way,” she said during the first Democratic Primary debate. “Who is this economy really working for? It’s doing great, for a thinner and thinner slice at the top. It’s doing great for giant drug companies. It’s just not doing great for people who are trying to get a prescription filled.”

The Michigan economy is at the center of this debate, with Michigan experiencing a tangible economic boost. The big three auto companies have experienced such favorable earnings that the United Auto Workers union are playing hardball to get a bigger slice of the prosperity. In an interview with Great Lakes News, Rep. James Lower claimed that “the economy is so good in West Michigan right now that employers are having a hard time finding employees with the skills to fill their jobs.”

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Not everyone shares this enthusiasm however. Farmers have voiced their concerns over the potentially damaging effect of Trump’s trade war with China and commentators like Lou Glazer of Michigan Future Inc. believe the economic prosperity is illusionary.

Sen. Warren’s campaign team published an article this week titled “The Coming Economic Crash and How to Stop It,” where she claimed to have predicted the 2008 financial crash and warns of a similar coming catastrophe. She spent a large portion of the article focusing on a reported manufacturing recession, a prime Michigan issue.

Do not be surprised if Warren, and her economy-focused opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders, appeal to the pocketbooks of Michiganders.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and the Great Lakes go national.

Great Lakes News already reported on Governor Jay Inslee’s plan to bring Enbridge’s Line 5 into the national conversation. Inslee made a point of mentioning how important of a role Line 5 should play in the upcoming debates, and activists have taken notice. A coalition of 160 environmental organizations from 8 states, 35 of them from Michigan, formed Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. According to MIRS, the coalition presented every presidential candidate, including incumbent Donald Trump, with a platform detailing an all-encompassing plan that requires hundreds-of-millions of dollars to accomplish.

While the organization’s press release does not explicitly call for the closure of Line 5, the pipeline’s continued operation remains the center of discussion surrounding the Great Lakes and the environment. During the first debate, almost every single candidate claimed that “climate change” was currently the greatest threat to the United States. Many candidates support the all-encompassing “Green New Deal” or have made their own manufacturing reform bills major pillars of their campaign. Beto O’Rourke presented a $5 trillion plan to reshape the entire economy. Jay Inslee raised O’Rourke by $4 trillion, offering a $9 trillion plan to reshape the entire economy even more. Elizabeth Warren, who claims to “have a plan for everything,” has a plan to restructure American manufacturing that she calls her “Green Manufacturing Plan.”

With all this campaigning centered around the upcoming “climate emergency” and the intensity of activism fighting to close the Line 5 pipeline, Inslee will most likely have his opportunity to make the pipeline a national issue. It might be hard to ignore while speaking only three miles away from the Detroit River and, by extension, Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.

A candidate will only have to stand up and point south before telling some anecdotes like: “The Lakes were so beautiful when I flew in yesterday, and they need to be protected.”

Candidates elaborate on USMCA/NAFTA.

The United States-Canada-Mexico-Agreement (USCMA) has languished in ratification limbo for nearly nine months. The replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would require that 75% of a car’s parts be manufactured in North America to qualify for zero tariffs, that 40-45% of a car’s parts be manufactured by workers that make at least $16 or an hour, opens Canada’s dairy market for U.S. farmers, and change several other standards set by the old treaty.

Democrats, either not eager to give the president a win or genuinely concerned about the treaty’s impacts depending on who you ask, have decided to block the ratification of the treaty until the affected governments make some changes. The Democrat’s criticism of the USMCA centers on increased regulatory standards for the countries involved, calling for higher labor, healthcare, environmental, and enforcement standards.

With the treaty promising such a sizable impact on the auto and farming industries, Michigan stands the most to gain/lose over its ratification. 15 of the candidates currently running for the Democratic nomination have already shown their support for their party’s position on the deal. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has shown himself to be an especially vocal critic.

“It’s got a different name, but it’s still NAFTA,” he told CNN. “It’s even worse in some ways. It gives even more power to corporations this time.”

These critics to the treaty might use their platform to fully develop their criticism, especially considering how long the treaty ratification process is taking. If the Democrats want to keep the treaty in an ineffective state it might serve them to at least provide the people of Michigan with a fully developed position.

The rest of the field has yet to establish their opinion on the subject. With the deal having such a large potential impact on Michiganders, the debates will be the perfect opportunity to establish their position and potentially give themselves an upsurge in local recognition.

Personal Anecdotes About Flint.

Flint has remained in the public eye almost non-stop since 2016. The city’s tribulations reentered the headlines last month when Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office decided to restart the investigation of the Flint water crisis. A few weeks later, the backlash against Harvard offering former Governor Rick Snyder a research fellowship showed just how open those wounds remain. Early indications show that the 2020 presidential candidates have noticed Flint’s continued relevance.

Kristen Gillibrand made a stop in Flint as part of her “Trump Broken Promises” tour centered around flipping formerly blue states that voted for President Trump. During the visit she toured the local water treatment facilities and took the opportunity to talk about her plans to improve drinking water through changes to purification infrastructure. Beto O’Rourke hosted a Town Hall at the Ferris Wheel Innovation center, with Sen. Cory Booker holding a closed-door round table to hear Flint’s top concerns. Former Vice President Joe Biden mentioned what he saw as inaction in Flint during the aforementioned NAACP convention, saying that the government “should be replacing all those pipes. What is the matter with us?”

Candidates love personal anecdotes. Any time that they can make themselves look more human in front of the American people they take the opportunity. With candidates taking the time to meet with people in Flint, they will mention it. If the moderators decide not to ask an explicit question about Flint, though they most likely will, one of the candidates will make an opening.

Expect the phrase “clean drinking water is a human right” to come up more than once.


As you sit down to watch the debates next week, know that the candidates will work hard for your vote. These topics are not a certainty, but Michigan does have a special role to play in the upcoming election. Knowing this will help you evaluate their claims in an evenhanded way.

One thing is for certain: expect a loud round of applause whenever a candidate mentions this great state.