ST. IGNACE, Mich. — It was a slow day at the salon Connie Litzner manages in the Upper Peninsula town of St. Ignace, the perfect time to ask the 59-year-old conservative what she thought about the wild presidential race.
She was torn. Republican Donald Trump, she said that late September day, is the “extreme cry of the people” who are tired of being “muzzled” and she certainly didn’t like Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom she called a dishonest “criminal.” Two weeks later, after the release of a 2005 recording of Trump making crude remarks about women and multiple women coming forward with sexual misconduct allegations against him, Litzner was leaning toward Libertarian Gary Johnson: “I can’t deal with the groping.”
The shop owner next to Litzner, 56-year-old Phil Baldwin, was backing Clinton, calling Trump “an idiot.” ”I don’t expect a lot from politicians unfortunately,” he said. “She’s been in the game. She knows what she’s doing and how things work. I’m comfortable with that.”
Michigan again is an important state in the presidential election with 16 electoral votes, tied for eighth-most in the country. It encompasses a range of coveted voters: working-class Democrats, suburban Republicans and independents.
For Clinton, the state is part of a “blue wall” — 18 states plus Washington, D.C., that Democrats have carried for at least six straight presidential races and account for 242 electoral votes of the 270 needed to win. Over the same period, Republicans have continually won 13 states with 102 electoral votes.
Clinton, whose campaign has dispatched a steady stream of surrogates into the state, has led in the most recent Michigan polls. But political analyst Susan Demas cautions: “It’s not impossible to flip Michigan.”
The “change” message of Trump, who’s campaigned in Michigan more than former presidential candidates Mitt Romney or John McCain, could appeal to voters after nearly eight years of a Democratic president, Demas said.
He is promising to negotiate fair trade deals for the state’s numerous blue-collar workers who he says have been left behind. “She doesn’t believe in protecting American jobs or American sovereignty,” he said of Clinton during a Sept. 30 rally in the Detroit suburb of Novi.
Clinton countered on Oct. 10 that Trump is no friend of American workers because he used cheap imports from China’s bloated steel industry in his construction projects and opposed the auto bailout.
“How does Trump look at these workers in the eye?” she asked at the Detroit rally.
Michigan has about 360,000 fewer workers than at its peak in 2000, according to federal labor statistics, a dive that steepened during the 2008 recession. But it’s gained back about 420,000 jobs since the labor force bottomed out.
Demas notes that Trump is “a pretty divisive messenger” for Republicans and “has proved to be a pretty clumsy campaigner.” His support is less uniformly distributed geographically than past GOP nominees, Demas said — more popular than Romney or McCain were in suburban Detroit’s vote-rich, working-class Macomb County but struggling in neighboring Oakland County, a larger, wealthier and more diverse area.
Polls suggest Clinton is receiving as much support among African-Americans as Obama did in carrying the state by 9 percentage points four years ago. Trump likely needs to make up that deficit with a huge swing in the white vote.
What seems to be at issue for voters are the candidates’ trustworthiness.
Jill Miron, who lives in Davison and works about 55 miles south for the United Auto Workers union in Detroit, said she is “for Hillary all the way.”
“Trump, I don’t trust him (on) labor issues, foreign policies,” she said, adding she thinks he wants to “bring the UAW workers down to lower wages instead of raising the lower wages up to good standards.”
Vanessa Coy, who lives in the northern Lower Peninsula town of Gaylord, said the election is “difficult.
“Do I want to vote for any of them? No, to be quite honest.”
The 37-year-old mother of three said people get too offended by Trump, and while “we don’t know 100 percent what we’re getting with Donald Trump, I just can’t support Hillary Clinton. … I trust him more than I trust her.”