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Slim Romney Win Signals GOP Challenges in Reaching Michigan’s Working Class, Arab-American Voters

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Mitt Romney claimed victory in Tuesday’s Republican primaries, winning Arizona by a wide margin, but only narrowly edging out Rick Santorum in his native state of Michigan. Against the backdrop of a struggling economy, the Michigan primary foreshadowed the challenges Republicans will face when they confront Obama in the fall. Michigan’s economic woes preceded the rest of the country’s downturn, and its current 9.3 percent unemployment rate is noticeably higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent. The revival of the automobile industry played a central role in the campaign, with Romney and Santorum opposing the 2008 government rescue. Michigan also has a large Arab-American population, which overwhelmingly supported President Obama in the 2008 election. We go to Michigan to speak with Chris Savage, a Michigan-based political writer and founder of Eclectablog, and Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR Michigan. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the Republican presidential race. Mitt Romney narrowly beat Rick Santorum in his native state of Michigan Tuesday, also won the Arizona primary. Although Romney gained Arizona’s entire allotment of 29 delegates, his victory was eclipsed by his struggles in Michigan. He garnered just 41 percent of the votes compared to Santorum’s 38 percent, despite pouring the full weight of his campaign into the contest. Many analysts were surprised by the tight race, given Romney’s father, George, served as governor of Michigan nearly a half-century ago, and Romney himself won the state by 9 percentage points four years earlier.

Romney addressed his supporters last night.

MITT ROMNEY: Four years ago, we warned that the presidency was no place for on-the-job training. Well, today we have the economy to prove it, all right? This president, by the way, he likes to remind us that he inherited an economy that was in crisis, but he doesn’t like to remind us that he also inherited a Democrat Congress. He had majorities in both the House and the Senate. He was free to pursue any policy he pleased. Did he fix the economy? No.


MITT ROMNEY: You know, did he tackle the housing crisis? No.


MITT ROMNEY: Did he get America back to work?


MITT ROMNEY: No. No, instead he put us on a path toward debt and deficits and decline. It’s time to get off that path and get back on the path of American prosperity.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaking last night in Michigan. Romney’s main rival, Rick Santorum, was just 3 percentage points behind. After the results were announced, Santorum told his supporters he would continue to fight for the nomination. He also challenged Obama’s energy policy.

RICK SANTORUM: We put together a plan, and we announced it here in Michigan, our first hundred days and what we’re going to do, our freedom agenda, as to how we’re going to get this country turned around. And the first thing we talked about is what’s on the minds of a lot of people right now, and that is the rising energy costs in this country. We can put millions of Americans—and that’s underscoring millions of Americans—back to work, if we would unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of our energy sector of the economy. We can drive down prices, decrease our dependency on foreign oil. We can do it all, but we have a president who says no. We have a president who, when the opportunity to open up federal lands for mining and oil and gas drilling, says no. We have a president who—we have an opportunity to open up offshore, he says no. Deepwater, he says no. Alaska, he says no. Build a pipeline, he says no. We need a president who says yes to the American people and energy production.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Santorum, speaking after a strong finish in yesterday’s Michigan Republican primary. Meanwhile, Congress Member Ron Paul of Texas finished a distant third with 12 percent of the vote. He spoke Tuesday evening from Virginia, a Super Tuesday state where only he and Romney qualified for the ballot.

REP. RON PAUL: You know, the problems are—the problems are big. The economic problems are big. And we’ve done—we’ve spent too much. We have a debt crisis. We have a monetary crisis. It’s worldwide. The world expects us to bail us out. We’re deeply overregulated. We overtax. We fight too many wars. It’s just on and on. But you know what? The solutions aren’t all that complicated.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Paul was followed by Newt Gingrich, in fourth place, with 7 percent. Gingrich is hoping to revive his candidacy next week in Georgia and Tennessee by aggressively challenging Romney in new TV ads. This is Gingrich addressing his supporters last night.

NEWT GINGRICH: I think this is the most important election in our lifetime. I think that re-electing Barack Obama will be a disaster for the country. And—and I think the challenge for us is to present a clear and compelling alternative, so that the country has a really clear sense of what the difference is.

AMY GOODMAN: Against the backdrop of a struggling economy, the Michigan primary foreshadowed the challenges Republicans will face when they confront Obama in the fall. Michigan’s economic woes preceded the rest of the country’s downturn, and its current 9.3 percent unemployment rate is noticeably higher than the national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. The revival of the automobile industry played a central role in the campaign, with Romney and Santorum opposing the 2008 government rescue. Yesterday, President Obama criticized his rivals’ position in a speech to the United Auto Workers legislative convention in Washington, but stopped short of mentioning them by name.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Some even said we should let Detroit go bankrupt. You remember that. You know. Think about what that choice would have meant for this country, if we had turned our backs on you, if America had thrown in the towel, if GM and Chrysler had gone under. The suppliers, the distributors, that get their business from these companies, they would have died off. Then even Ford could have gone down, as well. Production shut down. Factories shuddered. Once proud companies chopped up and sold off for scraps. And all of you, the men and women who built these companies with your own hands, would have been hung out to dry.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama speaking to the UAW, contrasting his approach to the economy with Mitt Romney’s, who has made a campaign issue out of the President’s auto bailout.

Well, for more on the significance of the Michigan primary and concerns of people in Michigan, especially those who are Arab American, we go now to Michigan, where we’re joined by two guests. Chris Savage is a Michigan-based political writer and founder of <a href=””Eclectablog. And Dawud Walid is the executive director of CAIR Michigan.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Chris, let’s start with you. The significance of how the Republican presidential candidates addressed Michigan, the issues they raised, and the significance of Mitt Romney, yes, winning, but by a very narrow margin? And it is the state he was born in, where his father was governor.

CHRIS SAVAGE: Yeah, you know, that is probably the significant thing, is that it wasn’t a blowout, you know, when he has got such strong ties, at least in his own mind, anyway, to Michigan. I looked at the amount of money that was spent by his campaign and by the PACs that support him, and if you do the math in terms of how many votes he got, he paid $10.40 for every vote he got yesterday. And he outspent Rick Santorum two to one. So when you look at those numbers, he ought to have done a lot better than he did. And it just goes to show you how desperate he was to win this state.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris, I want to turn to a clip of Mitt Romney speaking in Michigan yesterday. He was responding to claims he’s been unable to excite the Republican base.

MITT ROMNEY: It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments. And we’ve seen throughout the campaign that if you’re willing to say really outrageous things that are accusative and attacking of President Obama, that you’re going to jump up in the polls. You know, I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am. I’m a person with extensive experience in the private sector, in the economy. I understand job creation, from a personal standpoint and from a theoretical standpoint. I want to use those skills to help the country. And if I get selected, great. And if I don’t, I can live with that, too.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney. Chris Savage, your response?

CHRIS SAVAGE: Well, you know, Michigan has had pretty good—pretty good experience over the last years—or I should say a pretty bad experience over the last two years with a CEO governor. And the problems that Michigan faces, in terms of our crumbling infrastructure and our failing cities and stuff, are not being addressed by a businesslike approach. When things are bad in the economy, the government needs to step up. That’s important. And for Romney to suggest that Detroit should have been allowed to go bankrupt was—you know, it offended not only Democrats in Michigan, it offended a lot of people in Michigan. And when you look at what’s happened since then and the resurgence, you know, Mitt Romney needs to come to Michigan. The Big Three auto companies are profitable, all three of them, for the first time in something like seven or eight years, and, you know, thousands of people are being hired. GM is making record profits. And people are starting to go back to work.

But the problem that we’re having right now is that the Republicans are failing to address the core systemic issues in places like Detroit, in Highland Park, in Benton Harbor, in Pontiac, in Flint, places like this that are truly struggling. And, you know, their “cut taxes and bring in business” approach is going to bypass these cities, because there’s nothing there that will compel people to come in and put businesses in these cities. So until we start reinvesting in our old manufacturing cities that are—you know, that are in real trouble right now, this rising tide from business tax cuts is going to really pass them by, and it’s going to benefit cities that are already doing pretty well.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Savage, you’ve written extensively about the emergency manager law in Michigan. Talk about its significance.

CHRIS SAVAGE: Well, the emergency manager law was passed last spring by our GOP Congress and signed into law by Rick Snyder. And it basically—the original emergency manager law was put into place to help cities that were facing bankruptcy in school districts. This new law actually gives a single individual, the emergency manager who is put into place by the governor, the ability to basically wipe away the local government. It disenfranchises local voters. And it—you know, it allows them to break union contracts, sell off city assets, and things like this. So, you know, there’s a large pushback against this for very good reasons. It’s disenfranchising just an amazing number of people. In fact, if Detroit gets an emergency manager, over half of the African Americans in Michigan will be without local representation in their government. So this is a really profound change and something that’s very shocking. And, you know, I’m glad to see it getting more attention now, because, you know, this is—this is really historic in terms of the implications.

Today, at the State Capitol, the Stand Up! for Democracy coalition is going to be submitting over 200,000, close to 250,000, petition signatures to put this on the ballot in November. They have been—they need about 160,000-and-change signatures, and they have close to 250,000. If those signatures are validated, the emergency manager law then goes on hold until we can vote on it in the fall.

AMY GOODMAN: Dawud Walid, there is a large Arab-American population in Michigan, a large Muslim population in Michigan. Talk about the feeling about the Republican primary in Michigan and what—how the Arab-American community was appealed to by the candidates.

DAWUD WALID: Well, going back to 2008, 90 percent of the American Muslim community, including Muslims in Michigan, voted for President Barack Obama. In saying that, there is some disenchantment with some of President Obama’s policies in terms of civil liberties, such as his signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, his reaffirming the PATRIOT Act, and some of his foreign policy stances. However, within the GOP—say, Ron Paul—in terms of some of his foreign policy stances and civil liberties, the Muslim community, in general, and Arab Americans really haven’t been drawn to the GOP, one, because they haven’t done any real outreach, but two, the GOP has used Islamophobia and xenophobia as a way of stirring up their base, from Romney to Gingrich and Santorum. They seem to use immigrants and Muslims as a whipping board to try to drum up support within the GOP base.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we have been covering the story that has been being—that AP has continued to unfold about the New York Police Department going beyond New York in targeting Muslims and tracking Muslims and Arab Americans. You—Michigan is on the Canadian border. First, I want to play the New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last month invoking the 9/11 attacks to defend the monitoring of Muslims.

COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY: We were doing what we have to do, pursuant to the law, to protect the city, a city that’s been attacked successfully twice and had 14 plots against it in—you know, in the last two decades.

AMY GOODMAN: We now know that the AP—because of the Associated Press, that money was used from the White House, federal money was used, in this monitoring. I wanted to get your response to this, as well as what’s happening on the Michigan border with Canada.

DAWUD WALID: Well, being in Michigan, and our national organization, CAIR—and we have an office in New York—we’ve joined other advocates in calling for Ray Kelly to resign. Ray Kelly, as well as his deputy chief, have completely trampled upon the spirit of the United States Constitution and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars with having agents even overseas, much less going through in Connecticut and New Jersey, spying on where Muslims eat kabob to bean pie. And they have not effectuated any tangible arrest relating to terrorism in regards to all this money they spent. They’ve basically been surveilling Americans with no predication. And this doesn’t even include how the New York Police Department has been notorious with its stop-and-frisk program that has targeted Latino youth, black youth, and the number of unarmed youth of color that have been shot, and some fatally shot, by the New York Police Department.

In terms of the border that we share, Michigan—with Canada, Michigan is a very unique state, because under current law, the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection has 100-mile jurisdiction from the international border in which they can stop anyone without predication and ask for them to produce proof of citizenship. Because of the Great Lakes being considered international borders, or part of the international border, the entire state of Michigan is within the jurisdiction of U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection. Therefore, we have instances in Southwest Detroit where Latinos, born and raised here in Detroit, have been stopped and been detained for hours and asked to provide citizenship. We have issues of Muslims at the border and re-entering the border, have been stopped by CBP and asked questions, such as, “Do you pray? How many times a day do you pray? Which mosque do you go to? Who is your imam?” even asking theological questions about how they believe or interpret certain verses of the—in our holy text. So we believe that Customs and Border Patrol—I mean, Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Border Patrol are completely out of order right now, and they are engaged in racial and religious profiling.

AMY GOODMAN: This is under the Obama administration. How is this going to affect the general election, Dawud Walid?

DAWUD WALID: Well, I can say right now that, as Muslims here in Michigan, they aren’t crazy about President Obama in regards to his civil rights positions, such as on immigration reform, or lack thereof, on the record amount of deportations that have taken place under his administration by ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the invasive nature of surveillance of our community by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. But at the same time, at least rhetorically, the President is a lot better than what we see from the GOP. So it’s my estimation that although the Muslim community probably is not going to vote for the GOP, I don’t think that Muslims in Michigan and across the United States of America are going to be very excited about going out to the polls. And as an advocate who encourages civic engagement, I’m really encouraging my constituents to go out and vote and really to focus more on the local politics and not let their dissatisfaction with the Obama administration regarding civil rights to chill them from going to the polls.

AMY GOODMAN: Dawud Walid, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of CAIR Michigan. And also thanks to Chris Savage, the Michigan-based political writer and founder of Eclectablog.

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