My Mom in Michigan Has No Hope

by Jay Jonah Cash on December 22, 2008

First published on January 15, 2008.

My 70-year-old mom is going to vote today. She always does. In fact, for the past 25 years she’s been an election inspector in my little town of 700 people situated about a half-hour south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She’s no inspector this time. This time she’s just too frustrated. She’d like to vote for Barack Obama, but she can’t.

“I like Obama. I actually love to listen to him speak. If there’s one thing we need around here right now, it’s hope,” she said. Obama isn’t on the ballot in my home state today, neither is John Edwards for that matter. Hillary Clinton is the only major Democrat on the ballot, and Mom hasn’t liked her since the healthcare mess in 1993.

Why doesn’t she or the rest of my family have a much of a choice today? Because both Florida and Michigan defied the parties and moved their primaries ahead of February 5th. But Michigan is the only one actually getting ‘punished.’ Both, in theory, are either losing all or half of their convention delegates. But Michigan is the only one where most major Democratic candidates stripped their names off the ballot. Florida broke the rules too, yet the Democrats are campaigning there. Not so in the Great Lakes State.

Mom and the majority of people in my home state are really worried about jobs. Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country, but the Democrats just don’t seem to care. Almost my whole family works in the auto industry and while they all still have jobs, they’re all still very worried nonetheless.

“It’s scary, really scary,” my mother said. “We’ve had hard times here before, but it’s never been this bad. Not even close. Nobody seems to have any hope for the future. I pray every night for my kids to keep going. It probably sounds weird, but every time I drive to Grand Rapids I’m just overjoyed to see a factory full of cars. I think ‘good deal, somebody’s working yet’.”

In the midst of all of that near despair, all there is in my home state right now are Republicans. Millions of dollars in campaign ads flooding the airwaves, all without a viable Democrat in sight (thanks for trying, Dennis Kucinich). Despite the fact she’s on the ballot, Clinton hasn’t stepped foot in the state for months.

The really crazy thing from my point of view is that Michigan is a swing state. If there’s one place that wants “change,” it’s Michigan. But now a whole lot of people feel ignored by the Democrats. That’s not good for whoever the Democratic candidate may be in November.

Over the past few weeks Obama and Edwards supporters began encouraging people to vote “uncommitted” so that Clinton won’t win an outright majority of the vote. They’re even running TV ads promoting the strategy. “Lame, stupid, insulting,” are all words that I’ve heard to describe the ploy.

Meanwhile there are efforts on Daily Kos and other sites to encourage Democrats to vote Republican today in order to choose the weakest candidates. Some will switch. Most won’t because if they do vote Republican their names and contact information will automatically be forwarded to the Michigan Republican Party. Their official party registration will go unchanged, meaning that the Michigan Republican Party will know what Democrats to target with the “ugly stuff” in the mail.

What it boils down to is that a lot of people just don’t want to be “branded” and then “harassed” by the Republican Party, especially for something a lot of them see as dishonest. A registered Republican voting in the Democratic primary would get the same treatment, but since Clinton is the only one on the ballot pretty much nobody’s going to switch just to give her a “coronation”.

As of Sunday, more than 20-percent of likely voters in Michigan are undecided not just on a candidate, but on if they’ll vote in the first place. The amount of frustration with the system is evident not just in the newspaper reports, but also in the voices of my friends and relatives.

In the Republican horse-race itself, John McCain has surged and picked up the endorsements of the majority of the state’s newspapers including The Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News and the Kalamazoo Gazette. But those papers are seen as liberal and are based in regions dominated by Democrats.

Romney has picked up the Grand Rapids Press endorsement, by far the most important in the Republican-heavy Western Michigan region. In addition, Romney has the endorsement of most of the major county organizations and at least 40 endorsements from state legislators while McCain has 10 and Huckabee just three.

McCain also didn’t do himself a favor by saying that automotive jobs are gone for good. Romney’s dad wasn’t just Governor of Michigan, he was also the president of American Motors and the Mitt-ster is using that too to argue that he understands the state better than McCain. It seems to be working.

Romney is also picking up support from people who liked his mom and dad, “who are buried here” as he likes to say, sometimes with tears welling up. Just like Hillary Clinton last week, people seem to think that this emotional side is genuine.

“He does seem to care. He grew up here and he understands the auto industry,” Mom said. “I don’t like that he’s a flip-flopper, I probably wouldn’t vote for him in November anyway, but I would like to see him stay in the race. If any one of them cares about this state, it’s him.”

People know that a loss in Michigan would devastate Romney’s campaign and I’m convinced that they just don’t want to be responsible for that.

“Let them fight it out, I don’t want it to be over yet,” Mom said yesterday. She’s probably going to vote for Romney if only for that reason, besides the fact that she thinks that Huckabee is essentially a goofy dork and that McCain is a really annoying warmonger. “I can’t stand listening to him. His ‘straight talk’ is just a bunch of slick talk. He talks up all of the successes in Iraq. Tell that to the dead soldiers.”

My prediction for today: Romney wins big. Why? Because Michigan might be the only place that thinks Romney is genuine about something. He does seem to love his home state. I can understand that. I love Michigan. I just wish there were more options for my friends, relatives and especially my mom. I wish there was more hope.

Jay Jonah Cash is a local writer and activist. His mom, Shirley Jean Lynema lives in Moline, Michigan in a 135-year-old former farm house where he grew up and where her family has lived since 1939.

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