Opinion | Politics

Mark Trahant: More opportunities for Native votes as race drags out

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visits Astro Coffee in Detroit, Michigan, on March 8, 2016. Photo from Facebook

#NativeVote16 – Hello June, July, it’s going to be a long campaign season
By Mark Trahant

First the Democrats.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' stunning win Tuesday in Michigan means that the Democratic Presidential Contest will likely continue through June and perhaps the convention itself. As I wrote earlier this week: “He needs to start winning big states, such as Michigan, and he needs more Democrats to vote.” Both happened in Michigan.

This also means more of Indian Country will have a say determining the Democratic nominee. The states ahead include: Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska. And that’s just in March. The Wisconsin primary is the first week of April.

Perhaps the best news of the night, however, was Michigan’s turnout. More than 2.4 million people voted, breaking the record of 1.9 million set in 1972. More people picked up Republican ballots, 1,318,297 to 1,183,840 for the Democrats. But Sanders and Hillary Clinton both had more than a half million votes, 590,386 for Sanders, and 570,949 for Clinton. The Republican winner, Donald Trump, earned 481,296. Up until Michigan, Democratic turnout had been mediocre.

A couple of other notes: The Michigan primary exposed a weakness in polling. Every poll was off by huge margins. Why? Were people lying? Did some Clinton supporters vote in the Republican primary? The irony here is that those answers will be found by, you guessed it, more polling. I would like to know more about how the role of the millennial generation in Michigan. Millennials may sleep with their cell phones, but do they answer calls from pollsters? If not, will that change the very nature of polling?

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at a rally in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on March 7, 2016. Photo from Bernie 2016

It’s also worth noting that the Clinton campaign scored more delegates Tuesday. She won Mississippi by a large margin, and essentially split Michigan (as Sanders himself said.) That means the math has only changed slightly. Clinton is adding delegates methodically. The delegate count used by FiveThirtyeight.com is a good one to watch because it does not include Super Delegates.

Harry Entin wrote: “Sanders must rack up big wins and fast. Thanks to an 83 percent to 16 percent win in Mississippi, Clinton gained in the overall delegate count on Tuesday and leads Sanders by more than 200 pledged delegates. Her strong performance in Mississippi also put Sanders further behind his FiveThirtyEight delegate targets. That may not be as sexy as the tremendous upset in Michigan, but math is rarely sexy.”

A long primary is going to be fun to watch. It will be fascinating to hear the candidates explain their differences on policy, ranging from trade to issues to banking rules. And, more important, looking at the calendar and the states ahead, it’s certain that Indian Country and our issues will be on the agenda.

Now the Republicans.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz signs a campaign sign for a supporter on March 5, 2016. Photo from Facebook

If the Democrats are building toward a June finale, the Republican Party’s collapse is on schedule. Donald Trump was again winning states and delegates and narrowing his competition. We’re a week away from Florida and Ohio where two home state politician, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. John Kasich, have to put up or shut up. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz remains the alternative, but he is hardly the credible alternative to Trump.

And the independents?

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided not to run for president. Bloomberg wrote: “In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress. The fact is, even if I were to receive the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, victory would be highly unlikely, because most members of Congress would vote for their party’s nominee. Party loyalists in Congress – not the American people or the Electoral College – would determine the next president.”

That remains a serious concern (as I wrote recently). A well-funded third-party candidate would only have to win one or two large states to split the electoral college. Then Congress would elect the next president. And we would all would lose.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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