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Trump and Clinton will both be in Michigan this week... but, why?

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both coming to Michigan this week which begs the question: is Michigan in play come November?

Recent polling and recent history would suggest Michigan will go for Hillary Clinton in November. The state has voted for the Democratic candidate in the past six presidential-election cycles. And, two recent polls show Clinton with nine- and 11-point leads in Michigan.

So, then, why is Donald Trump visiting Detroit later today to deliver what’s being billed as a major economic address?

And why is Hillary Clinton coming to Michigan on Wednesday? Spending that most precious of commodities -- a presidential candidate’s time -- on a visit to a state where she already seems to be doing so well?

Let’s tackle the Trump question first. His path to enough electoral votes to win the White House is looking very narrow. And the Trump campaign plan relies on him basically winning the industrial Midwest, where his tirades against trade deals have gotten some traction.

But this may not just be about winning Michigan.

Detroit remains economically emblematic. This speech to the Detroit Economic Club will be a national story.  Now, no doubt, Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican who has not endorsed Trump, would like the candidate to focus on Detroit’s comeback story. But we suspect Trump will bring a darker tale of economic dystopia, a manufacturing economy destroyed by trade deals and foreign competition. And, these are feelings that might also resonate in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

But, like we said, it’s pretty hard to see Trump winning the White House if he can’t win Michigan.

Michigan is on the highly respected website Five-Thirty-Eight’s top 10 list of states the election could turn on. According to Five-Thirty-Eight, Michigan has a 4.8 percent chance of being the state that decides this election, compared to Florida’s 16.5 percent, Pennsylvania’s 11.5percent, and Ohio’s 10.4 percent.

And, because Michigan often goes for Republicans in the off-presidential year elections - we’ve got a Republican governor, attorney general, and secretary of state - many Republicans consider the state winnable.

But here’s a secret: In Michigan, even when they win, Republicans don’t win statewide elections. Democrats lose them.

It’s a fact: There are more Democrats than Republicans in Michigan. So, elections hinge on turnout -- specifically whether Democrats get out to vote. Which brings us to Hillary Clinton’s visit on this week. It’ll be a fundraising swing, with a private an event in Oakland County. But Clinton will also use the visit to deliver a message on jobs and the economy. And that’s because, it’s all about the base (electorate).

Don’t forget Clinton lost Michigan’s Democratic primary to Bernie Sanders. Democrats are concerned they could be caught by surprise in November by another unconventional candidate. Clinton needs the Democratic base to be fired up so it turns out to vote.

With a controversial top of the ticket, Republicans may face their own turnout issues this year, but, typically, Republicans are more committed. Put a little differently, Republicans more often feel an obligation to vote, while Democrats need a reason.

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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