Headlines, North America

POLITICS-US: Michigan Republicans Upset at McCain's Exit

Bankole Thompson

DETROIT, Michigan, Oct 6 2008 (IPS) - Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain is facing a backlash from top Republicans, conservative media and party supporters for pulling out of Michigan, a key battleground state in the 2008 presidential election.

Republican Sen. John McCain has essentially ceded the state of Michigan to his opponent, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.  Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

Republican Sen. John McCain has essentially ceded the state of Michigan to his opponent, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. Credit: Bankole Thompson/IPS

The announcement, made Oct. 2 after a series of television ads and numerous visits to the state, left Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis and other party officials and supporters by surprise.

Anuzis said he was not consulted over the decision after recent polls showed McCain trailing behind Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama by 15 points.

"We were not aware of it," Anuzis told IPS. "We are going to put our own campaign together on Monday and move forward."

He said the state Republican Party is mobilising resources to reenergise the presidential campaign in a state that reportedly lost 30,000 jobs in January alone.

Michigan has 17 electoral votes in the U.S. electoral college system, under which the winning candidate must reach at least 270 votes, allocated to states according to their size. The McCain campaign says it will instead focus on other key battleground states.

Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of the Detroit News, the state's conservative newspaper, went after McCain on Flashpoint, a top-rated Sunday morning television show.

"They've just ran a lousy campaign in Michigan," Finley said. "This is a state that went for his charisma and he never exploited that. That would have played here. All he's done since he's been here is talk about Obama and that was not a good strategy."

Alice Benbow, who voted twice for the Republican presidential ticket in 2000 and 2004, was once an active party member and who was awarded the "number one Republican" in suburban Rochester Hills, is now an independent.

She said McCain and the Republican Party have lost touch.

"The Republican Party has gotten so big business, anti-citizen and it is absolutely repulsive," Benbow said. "I'm in favour of business and companies making money, but not at the expense of taxpayers. The City of Rochester Hills just gave [retail giant] Wal-Mart a tax break and we are paying for it."

She also cited the right of habeas corpus appeal, which came under serious attack by the George W. Bush administration as seen in the plethora of lawsuits brought against the government by detainees at the Guantanamo prison camp seeking due process.

"I believe in our constitution. We need to have habeas corpus restored and the party should go back to less government spending," Benbow said.

Akindele Akinyemi, an African American conservative blogger, called McCain's decision to leave Michigan "another Rudy Giuliani move that would cost him the election."

"The strategy for McCain was to pull out of Michigan because he is behind in the polls. Michigan is more than a battleground state," Akinyemi said. "We are talking about people who vote straight ticket whether they are Democrats or Republicans."

McCain essentially ceding the state hurts the entire Republican ticket in Michigan in the coming election, where many Republican lawmakers – state and federal – are locked in tough races, Akinyemi said.

Two Republican members of Congress – Joe Knollenberg, whose Ninth District includes suburbs of Oakland County, a Republican stronghold that Democrats have been trying to take away, and Tim Walberg from the Seventh District, which covers places like Jackson, home to some of the state's biggest prisons – are fighting for their political lives.

Knollenberg, an eight-term incumbent, has over four million dollars in his campaign war chest to defend his seat from former lottery commissioner Gary Peters, a Democrat who has established an effective campaign machine and raised over two million dollars. That race is shaping up to be one of the most expensive congressional races in Michigan history.

Walberg, who told the Ann Arbor News recently that McCain's presence in Michigan will help candidates like him win, is facing former Democratic State Rep. Mark Schauer. An estimated 45 House seats in Lansing, the state capital, are up for grabs.

"By him [McCain] pulling out he has created a triple effect in making these races very difficult for Republican candidates to win," Akinyemi said. "I'm not going to switch my support to Obama but it is a poor execution in terms of what needs to be done." With 30 days left to the general election on Nov. 4, McCain will lose Michigan, Akinyemi said.

"The GOP [Grand Old Party, a Republican moniker] dropped the ball," Akinyemi said. "John McCain does not have an urban policy to address issues in African American communities. John McCain not one time toured urban communities in Michigan to help him shape an urban policy."

He said Obama is different. "Whether I agree with him or not, he has presented a plan to African American and other minority communities," Akinyemi said. "This boils down to state and GOP leaders that are out of touch."

In the countdown to Election Day, one of the most exciting presidential elections in U.S. history is turning out to be a referendum on the Republican Party's handling of the nation's economy and the 700-billion-dollar taxpayer bailout of Wall Street.

"We have foreclosures everywhere. Whatever it is, our government needs to be responding to us," Benbow said. "The Republican Party has totally lost compassion with the people. I'm not for Obama, but he is very appealing to a lot of people. He can win Michigan."

McCain's running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, reportedly disagreed with the campaign's decision to drop Michigan and focus instead on Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. Palin said she wants to come back.

Sarah Lenti, McCain's Michigan Great Lakes regional spokesperson, did not return repeated IPS requests for an interview.

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