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Will POTUS visits, petition drive help turn out Obama voters?

President Obama was in Ann Arbor this week at the University of Michigan to throw his Democratic base some red meat* by stumping for the minimum wage. He called on Congress to pass legislation to boost the national minimum wage and he also endorsed a petition drive under way in Michigan to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

Democrats’ hopes of keeping control of the U.S. Senate in 2014 rest largely with keeping the seat that Sen. Carl Levin is retiring from later this year. Republicans appear to be in good shape come November because their voters are typically more likely to turn out in the off cycle, and because the party out of the White House typically does well in midterm elections.

Republicans also think they can win by relentlessly reminding the public of Obamacare. But what if Democrats can jujitsu that? That’s the political point of these presidential visits.

President Obama won Michigan by 10 percentage points in 2012. But, as we mentioned, many voters stay home for the midterm. So the challenge for Democrats is to get those Obama voters to turn out when Obama is not at the top of the ballot. His message, in short, to those voters: Talk is cheap.

As President Obama told the audience in Ann Arbor Wednesday, “Organize.That’s what you need to do … they may not hear the boos. But they can ... read a petition, they can see votes.”

About those petitions, every signature is public record. Those names and addresses on the minimum-wage petitions will be collected, cataloged, and available for direct-mail contacts, fundraising letters and, very importantly, Election Day get-out-the-vote efforts that the Obama campaigns in both 2008 and 2012 were legendary for.

So we’ve got this minimum wage petition drive and presidential visits (Obama visited Michigan State University less than two months ago, Vice President Joe Biden was in Detroit for the auto show in January and former President Bill Clinton will be wheels-down in Michigan later this month for a Democratic Party fundraiser) all to inspire the people that Democrats have to dislodge from their sofas and get to the polls if they’re going to have any hope of winning.

Which brings us to Mark Schauer’s announcement this week of Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown as his running mate in his campaign to unseat Gov. Rick Snyder. Brown has real progressive bona fides when it comes to abortion rights: She became a hero to the left during 2012’s Vaginagate episode and same-sex marriage; she was one of the county clerks who opened their offices to allow same-sex marriage two weeks ago.

In most cases, people won’t vote on Election Day specifically because Lisa Brown’s name will follow Mark Schauer’s on the ballot. But it will help with organizing, getting people involved, and outreach. Plus she is a prodigious fundraiser with national reach.

A poll released this week by the Marketing Resource Group, a Republican political consulting firm, shows Snyder still leading Schauer by eight points. But if you also look at the trend from MRG’s last survey compared to this one, Snyder is a little less popular and Schauer is a little more popular, albeit very slightly. However, we have yet to see the ad wars go full throttle; we don't know how they might affect public perception of the candidates.

But more than persuading people to agree with you, what this race is really going to come down to is GOTV: Getting out the vote on Election Day.

*Since he was in Ann Arbor, perhaps we should say “organic vegetarian quinoa patties.” 

**But we do know President Obama actually ordered Zingerman’s famous Reuben sandwich when he made a stop at Ann Arbor’s iconic deli.

***He also famously ordered the “New Pickle,” which is the “crunchy” one, to go with his sandwich, side salad, and ice tea.


Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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