The Michigan primaries next week matter a whole lot, not only because they’ll likely offer a second victory to someone and determine the viability of the Romney campaign, but also because Michigan is a state where the economy is a major issue. And frankly it looks more and more likely to be so nationally by November.
There are some growing indications that 2008 will not be a great year economically, and by the nature of the congressional calendar, the efforts now increasingly talked about to pass a stimulus package would need to get started pretty quickly — before the spring. That means concerns about the economy will be front-and-center in Washington quite soon, to a degree they haven’t been since early in Bush’s first term, and so will quickly come front-and-center on the campaign trail too.
The question is, what do the various candidates have to say to a nation concerned about the economy: on jobs, trade, taxes, and health care costs? These have not been central issues in the Republican race so far (even taxes have not been), but they will need to be in Michigan, and that should give us some idea of what candidates will be able to speak plausibly about these issues in the fall.
At first blush, the Democrats might seem far better able to speak to such concerns in the general election. But I’m not so sure. Republicans could actually have a pretty good message for lower middle class families (a pro-family, pro-market message of aspiration, rather than a simply pro-government message of desparation), if only they deigned to speak to them. Huckabee has tried, but with a tax plan that would actually hurt these very families and with very little substance beyond it. Others haven’t even tried. They’ll need to try in Michigan. We should pay attention.