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With three days to go, Michigan's must-watch races

It's Just Politics with Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta

It’s so close, we can smell it: Election Day. Three days away. And, apparently, three was the magic number this week as three presidential polls in Michigan were released.

The Detroit News got political pundits talking with a Glengariff poll that showed Mitt Romney and President Obama locked in a battle for Michigan. The point spread was three points, inside the margin of error. This had Republicans saying, “It’s a race here in Michigan!” To which the Obama campaigned responded, “Not so much.”

“With all due respect, I don’t think The Detroit News poll reflects where this race is in Michigan, and everything we see, all the data we get suggests there is a wider gap there,” concluded Senior Advisor to President Obama, David Axelrod. In fact, Axelrod is so confident of a Michigan-win for the President that he says he’ll shave off his mustache if Democrats don’t take the state’s 16 electoral votes. Republicans responded by dropping off a razor and shaving cream at the Obama headquarters in Lansing.

But, since then, two other polls seem to support that Michigan still leans Obama. EPIC MRA did a survey for The Detroit Free Press that showed President Obama with a slight lead – 48 to 42 percent, the same as earlier polls. But, that still means the president is below 50 percent.  Undecideds are still making a difference. Finally, a new Public Policy Polling survey showed the President with a commanding 53-45 lead in the state, although it does show Governor Romney’s position has improved slightly since the last PPP poll.

Meanwhile, the Romney-affiliated Super PAC has ramped up its spending in Michigan, and the Obama campaign has bought ads in metro Detroit for the first time. But we’re still not seeing the levels of spending and attention that suggests Michigan is really a presidential battleground state. That's certainly not to say, however,  that we don’t still have some battlegrounds in the state...

We can’t not talk about House Speaker Jase Bolger’s battle to hang on to his state House seat. The game all changed with the Speaker’s botched party-switching scheme that’s torpedoed the career of state Representative Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids and threatens to do the same to him, which really is just a total turn of events. Bolger was a rising star in the GOP, a future statewide candidate. His was one of the earliest names mentioned as a possible Republican challenger to Senator Debbie Stabenow. Now, a lot of Republicans are pretty upset with Bolger because of the otherwise-unnecessary expense and effort to hang onto a 57-percent GOP district.

Up until this week, Governor Snyder had kept this scandal pretty much at arm’s length. When asked about it earlier this year the Governor responded, “That’s a separate branch of government and I stay focused on the Executive branch.” But, now, the Governor is making campaign stops on Bolger’s behalf and has even cut a radio ad endorsing him. It’s part of a Republican all-hands-on-deck effort to help Bolger avoid the apparent fate of his fellow conspirator Roy Schmidt, who is pretty much certain to lose on Tuesday to Democratic newcomer Winnie Brinks. By all accounts, Schmidt has pretty much quit campaigning and Winnie Brinks is getting strategic advice, you know, like, “avoid slapping old people and children in public. And, try not commit any major felonies before Election Day.”

That said, Democrats are pleased to have one more seat in play. But they are also putting a lot of time and money into trying to dislodge a Republican in a strongly Republican seat. There is some grumbling those resources might be better used elsewhere. Not unlike the grumbling we’re hearing about the vast commitment of union money to ballot questions. If Proposal Two – the bargaining rights ballot question – goes down, if the emergency manager law is upheld, there will be a lot of questions about how Democratic and union leaders set their political priorities.

None of these ballot questions seem to be showing the big majorities needed to portend a win on Election Day. And, undecided voters typically vote no on ballot questions. But that’s just a prediction. There’s a reason why we have elections. For which, political junkies are thankful.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
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