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Flint becomes Presidentials' primary focus

Michigan presidential primary voters will head to the polls a month from tomorrow. But, if you think the action is waiting until then, think again.

Clinton stumps in Flint

For a few hours, Hillary Clinton put Michigan on the political map over the weekend diverting attention from the fight for votes in New Hampshire to, instead, government failures and the water crisis in Flint.

“What happened in Flint is immoral. The children of Flint are just as precious as the children of any other part of America,” Clinton told an African American church in the city yesterday.

Raising attention

But, as neither a U.S. Senator nor Secretary of State, Clinton doesn’t have official power to fix things. She does, however, have the power of the pulpit: calling on the Senate to adopt a budget amendment to help the city.

And, as a candidate, she was in Flint to show folks how she’d handle disasters and crises as president.

Even though the Michigan primary is approaching, it’s fair to say that this visit was intended more for a national audience than a statewide one. Clinton is trying to cement her bona fides as a can-do political fixer as opposed to an ideological philosopher.

And, lest you doubt that Flint is now a political emblem nationally, note that Bernie Sanders’ campaign set up a Flint headquarters this past week.

Voting has already begun

Clinton’s visit will help her with messaging and her campaign’s critical get-out-the-vote effort with the crucial urban, African American vote that can really determine the fortunes of Democratic primary candidates in Michigan.

And, make no mistake, Flint is a national story, but candidates - smart ones - also know they need to be sealing the deal in Michigan now. The reason: absentee ballots.

We’ve been told there are easily 450,000 or more absentee ballots already requested.

Actual absentee voting began here two weeks ago. And absentee voting could make up a quarter of the total vote.

Debating issues in MI

Urban policy is becoming a big part of the campaign and Michigan - Flint and Detroit - are a big part of that narrative.

Flint, as a symbol of government failure, but Detroit, as a city on the rise after last year’s exit from bankruptcy.

But now, there’s the financial crisis of the Detroit Public Schools, and a tussle, both inter-party and intra-party, over who’s best equipped to fix cities like Flint and Detroit.

And, interestingly enough, those two cities will each hold a debate the first week of March, just days before the state’s primary.

Clinton and Sanders will debate in Flint on Sunday, March 6th and Republicans will debate in Detroit on March 3rd. All trying to prove theirs is the path to an urban renaissance in America.

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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