In 2008, Hillary Clinton swept the hardest hit of the Rust Belt states, with Barack Obama taking two on the fringe--his home state of Illinois and Wisconsin.
As the 2016 campaign unfolds, with Michigan the first Rust Belt state to vote, Bernie Sanders made an unexpected push to win by the slimmest of margins (49.9-48.2 with 97 percent reporting). All the major polls had Clinton winning--and winning big in Michigan.
Michigan hurts my own predictions:
That leaves the Rust Belt, and while Bernie’s economic ideals for improving the economy ‘might’ tempt them, this is still the area of the Reagan Democrats. Too far to the left is likely to scare them off. -- David Yee 2/12/2016
But what is really going on in Michigan? Why isn't Bernie scaring them off?
They didn't get a chance to buy into Obama's line of "HOPE" in 2008 (he wasn't even on the Michigan ballot), but in 2016 about half the voters are loving Sanders' line of "STUFF."
Clinton clobbered Obama in the rest of the Rust Belt, with 10 to 20 percent leads in each contest, but she had better start worrying about those once 'safe' states with Michigan falling by the smallest of margins.
Clinton had great exit poll data in Michigan. The one category she often lags in, "trustworthiness/honesty," she took almost 70 percent of the vote. Eight in 10 were more interested in an experienced politician than an outsider. By the data, Clinton should have had a much better night.
Where Clinton got cremated was in the economy, and her entanglements in the TPP and lackluster plan to improve upon Obama's administration didn't sell well with Michigan.
For the rest of the contests, this will be Clinton's Achilles' Heel. She has a solid Democratic platform that panders to the base and invites the center, but she has no real plans to improve the economy. She may dabble in stating that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes, but she's not quite willing to fall on the modern sword in Democratic politics--the 'Robin Hood Tax Plan.'
Reading through Clinton's economic 'plan' on her website is a regular snooze-fest, loaded with all the right words but no real emphasis on how to get it done.
I have seen entire neighborhoods in Detroit succumbing to nature, completely abandoned because of a devastated economy. The Rust Belt isn't ready for more polite Democratic rhetoric on the economy; they want to hear how someone's going to fix it (even if it does sound a bit too Robin Hood-like for moderate Democrats).
March 15 is the next Rust Belt test, with Ohio and Illinois up for grabs and 341 delegates at stake.
If Clinton wants to gain some ground in the Rust Belt, she had better spend the next week honing her economic message, because the Rust Belt is looking for an economic hero, not someone "Fighting for You."