- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2011

DETROIT — He won the state in 2008 by nearly 18 percentage points and pumped billions of tax dollars into the effort to save its flagship industry. But even traditionally blue Michigan could pose problems in 2012 for President Obama, who kicks off his re-election campaign here Monday with an appearance at the AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Day parade.

While Democratic lawmakers boast that the Obama visit is a hat-tip to the state’s revitalized auto industry - Chrysler and General Motors Corp. are showing new vigor after $14 billion in federal bailouts two years ago - others say the still-faltering economy and weak jobs report are issues the beleaguered president cannot escape.

“I think he’s counting on a traditional bloc of labor voters, but the bottom line is that even within those blocs there is tremendous dissension about the direction he’s taken this country,” said Matt Davis, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party.

“There’s always been a tremendous disconnect between union bosses, the ones who direct where the money goes, and the rank and file, the ones who pay, whose dues are being taken,” Mr. Davis added. “The rank and file are hurting in Michigan. They want a change in the White House.”

Poll numbers show a disenchanted electorate across Michigan, a state Mr. Obama won handily in 2008 and a state where no Republican has won the presidential race since 1988.

An EPIC-MRA survey of Michigan voters taken in July found the president’s favorability rating tied with his unfavorability rating at 47 percent. In August, his favorability spiked to 49 percent, but his job approval rating turned dramatically downward to 65 percent negative, 34 percent positive, with 40 percent of voters ranking his record on jobs as poor.

In addition, 75 percent of voters in the August poll said Michigan was headed in the wrong direction, up dramatically from 62 percent in July as the nation weathered the polarizing debt-ceiling crisis.

“The issues for him here are jobs and the economy,” said Lansing-based pollster Bernie Porn. “Michigan has been suffering for a decade. Unless [Mr. Obama] can develop a narrative that is more appealing to voters … he must come up with a much more compelling narrative about addressing these economic issues. So far, he ain’t there.”

That frustration with the president has the GOP convinced Michigan is in play.

“I think even those who voted for [Mr. Obama] the first time realize that almost everything he has done has to be a failure,” said state Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican from Grandville who calls the president “absolutely beatable.”

Bill Ballenger, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, said Mr. Obama’s chances in the state remain strong, “despite the doom and gloom of his declining numbers.”

“I don’t think he’s going to carry Michigan by 17 percent like he did in 2008. I think his popularity here is going to continue to languish well into next year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win in November,” Mr. Ballenger said. “The real question is who will Republicans nominate?”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the son of a former Michigan governor, held a strong lead in the polls among GOP presidential contenders in Michigan, but that was before Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race.

“We don’t know what things will look like in February,” Mr. Ballenger said. “[Romney] cares about Michigan. He’s been back here several times to campaign and he’s got a network of fundraisers here from 2008. Whatever criticisms you can make of Romney for not having Michigan sewed up, he certainly has more support than anybody else.”

Mr. Davis, of the Michigan GOP, said voters in 2012, as in 2008, want change.

“They want someone who will be bold,” he said. “What doesn’t work is bloated government, higher taxes. It’s a dysfunctional government, and that is what people have seen out of Obama.

“Plan A was a stimulus to create jobs. That was a shocking failure,” Mr. Davis added. “What’s next for Plan B? Something worse than the stimulus? I think the economic pain people here are experiencing is far more profound than any bromide this president can offer.”

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