The other issue that could make or break Michigan for Joe Biden

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There is no mystery about who will win Tuesday’s presidential primary here in my home state of Michigan. But there is some drama on the Democratic side, due to the push for “uncommitted” votes to show anger at President Joe Biden over his support for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

A substantial crackdown on “uncommitted” would raise the possibility of Biden losing ground among two key groups: young progressives and Michigan’s sizable Arab-American population. It is not clear exactly what would qualify as “substantial‘ – or even whether it will be possible to say this based on Tuesday’s results. But if tens of thousands of potential supporters stay home in November, for example, it could make a big difference in a state that Biden won by just 150,000 in 2020. And there aren’t many winning election scenarios for Biden in 2024 that don’t do that. Not Michigan.

But Gaza isn’t the only issue that could undermine Biden’s chances here. You don’t even have to take my word for it. Just listen to his likely Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, who was back in the Detroit suburbs last Saturday and devoted a large, early portion of his speech to Biden’s strong support for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing.

“Crooked Joe has ordered a manufacturing job in Michigan with his crazy electric vehicle mandate,” Trump said, referring to requirements that U.S. automakers are meeting emissions targets that will, over time, require a shift in production from gas-powered cars and trucks to electric cars.

The supposed threat of the requirement (and EVs in general) is a staple of Trump campaign rhetoric for a while. It is part of a broader attack on the Democratic Party’s environmental agenda, which Trump calls “the Green New Scam” and which Trump says will make life harder for ordinary Americans.

In the case of electric vehicles, this means pushing Americans toward cars and trucks that (according to Trump) cost more, are less fun to drive, and require charging when they don’t need it. The appeal is part wallet, part identity – i.e. red-blooded Americans drive cars that are big, loud and emit as much carbon as possible.

But in the Midwest and especially in Michiganhome to America’s auto industry, Trump has focused more on the manufacturing jobs he says will disappear. Trump never says exactly how this will happen, but the gist is clear enough: The mandate will force companies to lose money by producing vehicles that people don’t want, he says, ultimately leading to layoffs and a loss of competitive advantage. against companies in countries such as China.

It’s not hard to see why this might resonate, especially in a part of the country where manufacturing jobs have been declining for decades – and where workers long ago learned to be wary of hype about coming economic transformations. And while it is easy to overestimate how much economic anxiety has swung working-class voters toward Trump, it is also possible to underestimate its importance.

So does Biden have a response to Trump’s EV attacks, and to voters’ attention? Does he have a way to convey that response effectively?

I think the answer to the first question is yes – and the answer to the second is maybe.

The case Biden can make

Biden’s case starts by explaining the entirety of what he does for the auto industry and its workers. That effort involves much more than just setting new emissions rules to promote the production of electric vehicles. Perhaps the most important piece is what Biden has done to support EV jobs and ensure those jobs stay here.

The centerpiece of these efforts is the Inflation Reduction Actthe massive energy and health care bill that Democrats passed on a party-line vote and Biden signed in 2022. It includes a group of programs that, in one way or another subsidize both the production of electric vehicles and their purchase by consumers.

It’s a huge injection of financial support that will likely have an impact $100 billion the next ten years and possibly quite a bit more. And there are important conditions attached: the money goes to parts and vehicles produced in the US. So are the effects already visibleImmediately explosion in build of new EV factories taking place across parts of America, from a so-called ‘Battery Belt’ in the south to the Great Lakes in the north.

That includes Michigan and, crucially, the effects extend beyond the auto industry because building those factories requires so much labor. “It will impact everyone in the supply chain,” said the Michigan AFL-CIO president Ron Bieber told me this week: “from auto workers, to electricians, to construction workers, to truck drivers.”

For the strategy to work, someone still has to buy all these new electric vehicles — a proposition that may seem shakier among manufacturers lower projections for future sales and cut back production. The Biden administration seems willing to make things easier by (as reported in The New York Times last weekend) which delayed the timeline for stricter emissions in a way that would allow for a more gradual transition.

But even the car manufacturers who pushed for that timeline change don’t think anything can stop the transition to electric vehicles. This kind of volatility is typical of new markets, and it’s not like demand for electric vehicles has disappeared. It’s just that the growth rate has slowed, says autobeat reporter Phoebe Wall Howard of the Detroit Free Press noted in its fact-check of Trump’s speech.

Many analysts expect a recovery this year or next year. In the long term, they think, the real question is where the vehicles are built – here or abroad.

“There are two approaches,” Bieber said. “You can face it head-on – invest in American-made products so we can compete on the world stage and bet on American workers as Joe Biden proposes – or ignore it as Trump says, which will only change the American auto industry . and hundreds of thousands of workers on the verge of failure.”

The people who can argue Biden’s case

Biden can cite all this as confirmation of his efforts. He can also indicate what he has done to ensure that the new EV jobs are actually good jobs.

That’s the other major concern of autoworkers, and it was at the heart of the United Auto Workers’ fall strike against the Detroit Three (Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the European conglomerate that owns Chrysler). At the time, UAW President Shawn Fain was angry that Biden had not done more to create a “just a transitionWith guarantees that the new EV jobs would offer wages and benefits comparable to the old combustion jobs.

Biden responded — privately, by pushing the three companies for better terms on their contracts and publicly by marching with UAW workers on a picket line outside Detroit. It was believed that this was the first time a president had ever joined striking workers and that it was part of a broader agenda that included the appointment of pro-union officials to the National Labor Relations Board, which now has labor officials and their supporters . sing his praises.

Among them is Fain, the new president of the UAW. In January he announced the UAW’s endorsement of Biden with a moving speech that drew a contrast between Biden and Trump, whose record includes appointing officials hostile to organized labor and, during the recent strike, speaking at a non-union firm.

“In November, we can stand up and elect someone who will stand with us … or we can elect someone who will divide us and fight us every step of the way,” Fain said.

It’s hard to know how much that kind of rhetoric, or the UAW’s support, will ultimately matter in Michigan. Fain’s speech didn’t get as much attention, in part because the big news surrounding Biden’s visit was the already growing tension over Gaza with the state’s Arab-American voters. And union members may not listen to their leaders, just as they may find Trump attractive for reasons that have nothing to do with jobs.

But the UAW’s organizing and voting operations are formidable. And one of Michigan’s most respected pollsters, Bernie porn of Epic-MRA, told me that his polling before Fain’s endorsement showed Trump with a slight lead among unionized households. After the approval, Biden had taken the lead.

The margin was small, Porn warned, and a plurality rather than a majority. Therefore, electric vehicles remain a key issue and potential vulnerability for the president. “Biden must do a better job of explaining how battery factory jobs and increased electric vehicle production in the future are intended to minimize the impact on employment,” Porn said.

Support from the likes of Fain, Bieber and other trusted messengers can of course help Biden make that case. But in the end, Biden will have to make it himself.

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