With Sen. Barack Obama’s announcement of Sen. Joe Biden as his VP, the ball is now in Sen. John McCain’s court to make his pick for VP. Several political leaders with ties to the Great Lakes region are on the list, most notably Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts (son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney), and Secretary of Homeland Security and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Both candidates need to do well in the Great Lakes swing states to get to the White House, and picking a VP from the region could help McCain overcome Obama’s home field advantage.
All of the Great Lakes states are critically important for winning in November, but Michigan may be at the top of the list. As detailed in a recent Time article, “The Battle for Michigan,” current polling in Michigan has the candidates in nearly a dead heat. The political landscape in Michigan is a minefield. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is at the center of a distracting legal and political scandal that could further divide the region on racial lines. Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm is halfway through a lackluster second and final term, apparently trying not to upset anyone but clearly not inspiring anyone either. The economy is terrible and probably getting worse, undermining faith in the Michigan companies like Ford and GM that have been the bedrock of the state for a most of the last century.
At the risk of offering unsolicited political advice, I have a modest suggestion to both candidates. Get on board with protecting the Great Lakes, and rebuilding the Great Lakes region as an economic powerhouse in the global economy. Use Great Lakes issues to bring people together, then show how together we can make the economic transition to the 21st century. A recent article by Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers suggestions from several Great Lakes advocates (myself included) on the regional issues that candidates could jump on. The issues, and the support of the voters, are there for whoever wants them.