Republicans fare well in northern Michigan, but Trump wins by less

Nov 6, 2020

President Trump addresses a Traverse City crowd the night before election day.
Credit Dan Wanschura / Interlochen Public Radio

Three weeks ago, John Roth, the now-elected representative for the 104th state house district, was door knocking in Grand Traverse County. There he met a man who says he votes Republican, but strongly disliked President Trump.

 

“I can understand that,” Roth replied.

Roth says he often has to explain that just because he shares the same party as the president, he isn’t like him.

“I don’t try to run away from the President,” he says. “I’m just trying to make people understand this position in particular that I’m running for is local. It has nothing to do with national politics.”

On Tuesday, it appears voters made the distinction.

In Grand Traverse County, Roth won his race, as well as other Republicans, who won decisively. Donald Trump still won the county but his lead was smaller than the last election, even though he just appeared the night before for a packed rally in Traverse City.

Across Northern Michigan, voters turned up in record numbers supporting Republicans, but not always Donald Trump. According to the New York Times, in Emmet County, Trump’s margin over Biden is eight points lower than his margin over Clinton in 2016. In Charlevoix County, the gap in his performance is seven points. 

Leelanau County was the only county in the region to flip blue in the presidential race. Voters went for Trump in 2016, and Romney before that in 2012. But this year, Biden won by five points. 

It’s not too surprising, says Leelanau Democratic Party Co-chair Brigid Hart.

“We’re more purpley-blue than red-red,” she says.

But there was a stronger sentiment among people she spoke with that they’d had enough of President Trump. A lot of Leelanau residents are retirees and didn't like how the president was handling the pandemic.

“People were just disgusted with the political environment in general and I think they just wanted to see a change,” Hart says.

But that only extended to the presidential race. The majority of Leelanau residents voted for Republicans down the ticket.

Betsy Coffia, the Grand Traverse County Commissioner for District 1 - Traverse City, says another dynamic is at play in this election. She thinks that there were still many voters who showed up primarily for Trump, shifting the vote in favor of Republicans.

“I think with any other presidential candidate at the top of the ticket the 104th would be a democratic district at this moment,” she says.

Even though Republicans clearly swept northern Michigan seats, Coffia is optimistic the Democrats still have a chance down the road. She says she’s watched the community become more liberal over the past decade.

“I really see it takes patience. It’s maddenly slow progress,” she says of her own rise as a Democrat in local politics. “But it is measurable progress.”

Still, a Democratic challenger will likely have a tougher time unseating an incumbent, John Roth, in the next election for the state house. He had not held an elected position until now.