Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Election Night Guide to the Michigan Primary

A county-by-county cheat-book for understanding the Michigan results.
March 10, 2020
The Election Night Guide to the Michigan Primary
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

As a Michigan native and recovering politico, I thought I’d put together a brief guide to Tuesday’s big primary. The stakes are high: Will Bernie Sanders win Michigan (as he narrowly did in 2016) and restart his campaign? Or will the newly resurgent Joe Biden steamroller continue rolling through the nomination?

Here are a few things to look for Tuesday night as the numbers come in:

  • Wayne County: It’s home to both Detroit and suburban cities to the west and east. Hillary Clinton killed Bernie 2-to-1 here in 2016 and Biden is likely to do the same. If Bernie can break through in Wayne and hold his loss to 10 points, it’s a sign that things are going well for him.
  • The Northern Suburbs: The other two key Detroit area counties are Macomb and Oakland—the northern suburbs. The race here was closer in 2016, with Macomb essentially tied and Hillary winning Oakland by just a few points. Macomb—long famous in political lore for its “Reagan Democrats”—is full of UAW retirees, who have good health insurance. My guess is that Biden is more Oakland and Macomb-friendly than HRC ever was and will thump Bernie here. If that happens, Joe will win. If it’s close, that’s a good sign for Bernie.
  • Flint and Saginaw County: From Oakland, go north up the I-75 freeway—Michigan’s industrial spine—toward Flint and Saginaw. These are factory towns—your GM steering gear and powertrain was probably made around here—and it is Biden land. He should win both. Genesee county, home to Flint, was a 5-point county for Hillary in 2016. Look for Biden to potentially double that margin.
  • Ingham County: It contains Lansing, which is both a college town (home to Michigan State) and the state capital. College kids and state Government workers . . . this should be Bernie land. See if he can get to 60+ percent in Ingham, because unless The Bern is doing surprisingly well in Southeastern Michigan, he’s going to need huge numbers here.
  • The West: GOP friendly Western Michigan plays a smaller role in Democratic politics. (It was Ted Cruz territory in the 2016 GOP primary.) But the fast-growing region does yield a decent chunk of Democratic primary voters. Watch Ottawa, Kalamazoo, and Kent (Grand Rapids) counties: Hillary couldn’t get to 40 percent here. If Biden runs above 45 percent, or even carries these counties, the Bern has been extinguished.

My bet? Big win for Biden. He’ll run up the numbers in the I-75 corridor from Flint and Saginaw down to Detroit’s tri-counties, and show more strength outstate than HRC did.

Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy grew up in Detroit and has run four successful major statewide races in Michigan—which is 65 percent of all Republican senatorial and gubernatorial wins achieved in Michigan during the last 26 years. Murphy is also co-director of the Center for the Political Future at USC.