Obama's second visit to Ann Arbor shows he's 'not taking Michigan for granted'
Related story: Obama scheduled to speak at University of Michigan on Friday
President Barack Obama's decision to speak Friday at the University of Michigan reflects a bid to energize his political base in a state that's looking increasingly vital to his reelection.
Although the speech won't be billed as a campaign event, it's clearly part of the president's election year effort to highlight his accomplishments in a state has benefited directly from his policies.
His support of the auto bailouts — which saved thousands of jobs — is looking increasingly crucial because winning Michigan is vital to the president's reelection, said Craig Ruff, an analyst with nonpartisan Lansing-based Public Sector Consultants.
"It's great that Michigan is on the swing state tour," Ruff said. "It shows that the president is not taking Michigan for granted."
The speech also comes as the Republican presidential primary is intensifying. Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on Saturday night — and a poll today by Rasmussen Reports shows he has taken the lead in the critical Florida primary.
Nonetheless, analysts still view former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as a formidable candidate in a protracted primary contest. As a Michigan native and son of former Gov. George Romney, Romney still benefits from strong name recognition here.
"Michigan would likely be more in play with Mitt Romney," Ruff said.
And, to be sure, if the Republican nominee wins Michigan, Obama will be in serious jeopardy of losing the election.
But Romney faces a significant obstacle in Michigan: explaining his opposition to bailouts for the auto companies.
It's a "cloud over Romney in Michigan," Ruff said. "That will be hammered over and over again by the Obama campaign."
Ultimately, however, it's possible that Michigan's job market will decide whether the president wins the state again.
Michigan’s unemployment rate dipped to 9.3 percent in December, marking the lowest it's been in 28 months. It's only 0.8 percentage points higher than the U.S. rate of 8.5 percent.
It's hard to envision a speech in which Obama doesn't emphasize improvements in the economy and the stabilization of the auto industry.
In his speech at U-M's 2010 spring commencement ceremony, Obama didn't get very political, choosing instead to scold society for engaging in harsh conversation and not considering what the opposing side has to say.
In this speech, we can expect more politics. Inauguration, after all, is less than a year away.
"I'm excited to see the president coming here," said Cleveland Chandler, chairman of the Washtenaw County Democratic Party. "Michigan needs help from the president to carry the state. We've got a lot of important elections this year — Sen. Stabenow, all of our Congress people, and Washtenaw County surely could use the boost from the president being back in Ann Arbor again."
He added: "Michigan is a battleground state and he needs to carry Michigan in order to get re-elected as president."
In a November poll, EPIC-MRA found that 48 percent of Michigan voters had a favorable opinion of the president, compared to 46 percent with an unfavorable view.
“I know it’s not a campaign trail visit, but I am kind of curious to hear what he has to say about the campaign,” said Mindy Wilfong, a PharmD student at U-M. “I know some people say they’re disappointed and they voted for him in the past and they’re a little disappointed at how things have turned out, but I think we’re going to see more of the positive response to his arrival.”
AnnArbor.com reporter Ryan Stanton contributed to this story.