What & where to watch in Michigan on Election Night

Posted at 7:25 PM, Nov 07, 2016

(AP) — Michigan's status as a presidential battleground is no longer in question on the eve of the election.

Barack Obama trounced Republicans here twice, making the state an afterthought the last eight years outside of the primaries. But in 2016, the race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has tightened and is possibly too close for comfort for Democrats.

The former secretary of state, senator and first lady held a get-out-the-vote rally in Detroit on Friday, the latest foray into Michigan for a Democratic nominee in a dozen years. She visited four days after Trump, who could use a breakthrough in the industrial Midwest, campaigned in the Grand Rapids and Detroit suburbs.

The state has not backed a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

The winner-take-all contest is dominant but not the only race worth watching in Michigan. What to look for — and where — on Tuesday:


Metropolitan Detroit is a huge source of votes, especially for Clinton. Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties accounted for 45 percent of the statewide Democratic presidential vote in 2012 and 33 percent of the Republican vote. This is where Clinton must do well, particularly in the Democratic stronghold of Wayne — she campaigned at a voter turnout rally in Detroit Friday — to offset Trump's support in western and northern Michigan.

A place to watch closely is Macomb, the more blue-collar suburbs where Trump has polled well. It last went Republican in 2004, the last time Michigan had a competitive presidential race — when John Kerry won the state by 3 percentage points but still lost to President George W. Bush. Adjacent Oakland, a more white-collar suburban county, has been a bellwether, tracking closely to the statewide vote. It has not gone Republican since 1992. Another good statewide bellwether: Kalamazoo County.


Only two of Michigan's 83 counties have voted for the candidate that won the presidency in the past five elections. For national bellwethers, look no further than Shiawassee — along Interstate 69 between Lansing and Flint — and Van Buren along I-94 west of Kalamazoo. Shiawassee mirrored Obama's 51-47 national popular vote margin four years ago.


At least a quarter of Michigan voters, more than 1 million, will cast absentee ballots, either by mail or in person. About 855,000 had been returned as of Wednesday. It is not known if that means more people are voting this year or it is further indication of the parties' increasing success at persuading those who traditionally visit polling places on Election Day to instead to vote absentee. Absentee voters have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to return their ballot to the clerk's office.


Michigan has 7.5 million registered voters, up about 59,000 from 2012. The state Bureau of Elections is unlikely to project turnout this year. Since 1980, turnout peaked at 66.2 percent — 5 million votes — in 2008 for Obama's first win and bottomed out at 54.5 percent — 3.9 million votes — in 1996 for President Bill Clinton's re-election. Voters' enthusiasm is important. In 2004, when the statewide election was relatively close, 342,000 votes were cast in Wayne County — 100,000 less than 2008 and 40,000 below 2012, when the races were blowouts.


Michigan's presidential ballot has no statewide ballot measure, a first since passage of the current state constitution more than a half-century ago. So the focus on down-ballot congressional and legislative races is more heightened. Republicans who have controlled the state House for six years want to retain their majority, which would ensure Gov. Rick Snyder enjoys a GOP-led Legislature his entire tenure. Democrats need to pick up nine seats to again control the agenda.

The two most competitive U.S. House elections are the open 1st District in northern Michigan and the 7th District, which stretches south and east from the Lansing area to the state line.

One local ballot issue being closely watched is a proposed transit millage for southeastern Michigan. In Detroit, voters will elect a new school board as part of a state bailout that will give some control to locally elected officials after more than seven years of state financial management.