Given her pronouncements over the Flint lead poisoning crisis, forcing a Democratic debate there and sending campaign aides earlier on to the impoverished majority Black city when the crisis became a full blown national scandal, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was supposed to take Michigan in the Tuesday primary.
Moreso, after Flint mayor Karen Weaver and a host of local ministers in the area appeared in radio and television commercials endorsing Clinton weeks leading up to the primary, this was supposed to be a slam dunk. The leaders of the city that is the epicenter of the lead poisoning crisis that has angered many Michigan residents publicly backing Clinton should have easily translated into votes for the presumed Democratic frontrunner.
But despite leading in polls by 20 percent and positioning herself as the candidate who has elevated the Flint crisis to a presidential campaign issue, Clinton failed to win the state that is home to the auto manufacturing industry. Instead her fierce opponent in the race for the Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders won against the predictions of polls leading up to Election Day that suggested he was not going to win.
Sanders 50 percent to 48 percent win against Clinton in the Rust Belt state strongly suggest that his economic message and attacks on former president Bill Clinton’s trade deals – NAFTA- which many unions say took jobs away oversees resonated well with voters. The anger vote or the Flint vote that Clinton was banking on to get her over the top was not enough to defeat Sanders.
Exit polls showed that 56 percent of the Democratic primary voters angered by the state of the economy voted for Sanders compared to Clinton’s 36 percent. Appealing to the millennial vote, which seems to be at the core of Sanders’ campaign strategy also played well in the state. About 80 percent of Democratic voters under 30 went with the Vermont Senator while only 20 percent chose the former Secretary of State.
Another bump on the campaign trail for Clinton in Michigan before Tuesday’s primary came when AFSCME Local 25 endorsed Sanders instead of Clinton in the majority black city. Despite Clinton’s institutional support among prominent black Democrats in Detroit like Rep. John Conyers, Rep. Brenda Lawrence and other members of the Black political establishment, she could not secure the endorsement of AFSCME Local 25.
Though the endorsement was a stand alone decision by the local union and does not reflect the view of the ASFCME Council 25, the statewide labor group, whose downtown Detroit offices on 600 W. Lafayette houses the Clinton campaign, it still speaks of a reservation among some union members about the Democratic front runner.
“They essentially have the right to disagree and endorse who they want to endorse,” said AFSCME Council 25 president Al Garrett.
However Garrett stated that “We need someone who can work with the other side and Hillary knows how to do that. Bernie is promising a whole lot but you need a Congress to get things done. There is no chance in heck what he is promising is going to happen and Hillary is the best choice to do get things done with the other side.”
Rev Charles Williams, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network said the Sanders victory in Michigan should be a food for thought for the Clinton campaign because of the diversity of the state, and the role of the youth vote.
“Bernie Sanders’ statewide win speaks to the growing discontent that people have with politics as usual,” Williams said. “But it shows the power of the onslaught of millennials support. The loss speaks to the inability of the campaign’s black and political establishment leadership to make a connection past old friends and build a broad coalition.”
Williams was among millennial leaders of civil rights organizations from around the nation invited for a roundtable discussion with Clinton in New York Feb. 16 at the headquarters of the National Urban League. He said the meeting which was initially billed as a forum to discuss criminal justice and other urgent youth matters with Clinton ended up being much of a 10 meeting dialogue with the Democratic contender.
He said he walked away from that meeting disappointed because he wondered what kind of constructed conversation and resolution around issues that have been raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement can be reached in a 10 minute meeting. He concluded that though only four questions were asked in that brief encounter with Clinton in New York, the meeting was just a photo opportunity.
Despite rightfully asserting herself in the middle of the Flint crisis and making it a campaign issue, the millennials who gave Sanders victory in Michigan remain strong in his corner.
“I am excited and inspired that Bernie Sanders is leading this revolution and I most impressed that win or lose he has carried a movement which he knows is important,” said Tina M. Patterson, 28, an African American. “Hillary Clinton came across as a standard politician. Some of her tactics double as political pandering – hosting the debate in Flint- which she took credit for.”
Patterson said Clinton is a candidate “for those who want to sit by the pool and let the water touch their toes. But for others like me who want to swim Sanders is the one who will lead us into the water.”
Bankole Thompson is a columnist for The Detroit News where he writes about politics, culture and social issues. E-mail [email protected] and follow him on twitter @bankieT.