An area political scientist believes that Macomb County has a history of swinging between Democratic and Republican candidates, and as a result, becomes a key Michigan county when presidential candidates need to persuade voters.

An area political scientist believes that Macomb County has a history of swinging between Democratic and Republican candidates, and as a result, becomes a key Michigan county when presidential candidates need to persuade voters.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Officials discuss Macomb County, presidential election

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published October 23, 2020


MACOMB COUNTY — What do people think about how Macomb County will fare when it comes to the presidential election?

With early voting ongoing, folks on both sides of the political aisle spoke with C & G Newspapers to give their final thoughts regarding the race between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden as the Nov. 3 general election inches closer.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel believes that for moderate or independent voters, they are looking at the candidates not knowing who to vote for.

“The stage has already been set,” he said. “If you’re a very conservative individual, you’re probably going to be voting for Trump. If you’re very liberal, you’ll probably be voting for Biden. The reality is there’s still that moderate and independent who is very dissatisfied with both candidates. They’re not sure which way to turn and I think it’ll be a last minute decision before they cast a ballot.”

Hackel, a Democrat, said that in Macomb County early on in the presidential race, he saw a lot of support for Trump.

“I think it has dwindled extensively and a lot of it is because of the way he communicates,” he said. “It’s much more of a challenge as time goes on for Trump to receive that support from the county. I believe the county is going to have an impact, but probably not as much as it once did. I don’t think it’ll be as significant this time around for one candidate or another.”

In 2016, Macomb County went Republican with 224,665 votes, or 53.6%, for the Trump/Pence ticket. That was over 11% more than for Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and her running mate Tim Kaine, who received 176,317 votes.

Had it not been for the pandemic, Hackel believes both campaigns would’ve spent more time in Macomb County.

Biden last visited Macomb County Sept. 9 when he addressed union auto workers in Warren. The last time Trump stopped by the county was Jan. 30 when he spoke at a Warren auto supplier.

“Last time around, Trump made a significant push in Macomb County, yet Hillary Clinton was not and that turned the tables of that election,” Hackel said.

In the week prior to the 2016 election, Trump came to Michigan four times, including Warren and Sterling Heights.

Following a September visit from Donald Trump Jr. to Harrison Township, Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest said the stop at the time suggested to him that locally, the race is close. 

“Based on polling, if either side thought they were out of it, we wouldn’t see anybody showing up,” Verkest, a Republican, said in September. “I think that presence is good and it shows our local vote matters. I think Macomb County is a very unique microcosm or snapshot of Michigan. You have some more populated areas and don’t have to go too far north to make you feel like you’re almost up north. We’re a miniature snapshot of the state of Michigan. There’s a need to campaign.” 

Ed Bruley, chairman of the Macomb County Democratic Committee, said the county is very influential in all national and statewide elections.

“It’s the third biggest county in the state and it’s a county that can go back and forth,” he said. “People make independent judgments and decide.”

Bruley said Biden represents the kind of candidate Macomb County likes.

“He’s concerned about working people and seniors and is a leader that has a plan to get us out of this pandemic with as few lives lost as possible,” Bruley said.

Macomb County communities that went with Trump four years ago included Clinton, Harrison and Macomb townships. Municipalities where a majority voted Clinton were Warren, Roseville and Mount Clemens.

In the November 2012 general election, when Biden was on the ballot as vice president, Macomb County leaned Democrat by 4%, or 16,103 more votes.

In contrast to 2016, in 2012, Clinton Township voters chose the Barack Obama/Biden ticket by over 4,000 votes. In Sterling Heights that time around, 29,181 residents voted Democrat, compared to 28,107 who voted for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. In 2016, Sterling Heights went with Trump by over 7,000 votes.

John Klemanski, a political science professor at Oakland University, said Macomb County is quite important for a couple reasons.

“It’s a very large county so it will have influence just by sheer number,” he said. “Secondly, it has a history of swinging between Democratic and Republican candidates. As a result, it becomes a key county in Michigan when candidates need to persuade voters to vote for them. Macomb happens to be not only one of the few competitive counties in Michigan these days, but it is probably the largest.”

Klemanski has taught at OU for 35 years and said Trump’s approach in 2016 and now is to persuade folks who may have normally voted for Democratic candidates, to vote for him.

“It worked in 2016 when he went after blue-collar, white working class voters, which there are a lot of in Macomb County,” he said.

When it comes to what Biden must do to win Macomb County, Klemanski said Biden has tried to talk about jobs and building better.

“It’s very similar to the kinds of things Donald Trump is saying, so we’ll see if that works. He’s trying to bring back those voters who went with Donald Trump in 2016,” Klemanski said.

The Macomb County Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.