MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan's dismal economy could be the opening for a Republican presidential candidate to finally win the state for the first time since 1988, GOP activists said Saturday.
"I think more people even in our area have children, grandchildren or friends who have lost good jobs. .. They're pretty unhappy right now with the way the state is going," said Pentwater Mayor Juanita Pierman, the Oceana County GOP chairwoman. "That could make people come out and vote to change things."
Others attending the biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on this scenic resort island noted that the national economy is doing far better under President Bush than Michigan's economy under Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. They're hopeful that dismay over lost jobs, lower wages and an uncertain future could cause independents and Democrats who have lost jobs to vote Republican next year.
"You have to take a look at the Michigan climate ... and what the candidates are offering," said state Sen. Jason Allen of Traverse City. "Economic renaissance is critical for Michigan to turn around."
None of the six GOP presidential candidates who came to the island Friday and Saturday gave specifics about what they would do, if elected, to help the state reduce its unemployment rate -- August's 7.4 percent mark remained the nation's highest -- or switch to an economy less reliant on the shrinking domestic auto industry.
But a few did talk in more general terms.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson noted the domestic auto industry is restructuring and could get some useful changes in a new contract being negotiated now with the United Auto Workers. He told reporters Saturday the federal government could help manufacturers in Michigan and elsewhere by pressuring foreign countries to make trade policies more fair and stop devaluing their currency to make their exports less expensive.
During a dinner speech Friday night, Rudy Giuliani told the audience he wished Michigan had a Republican governor who would follow GOP ideals instead of Granholm.
"There is a game plan for what you do when you have high unemployment, a deficit, loss of jobs, people wanting to move out, and people not having confidence any longer in your government. And the game plan is exactly the game plan I would have for America if I was America's president ... lower taxes, smaller government, less regulation and recognizing that business is not the enemy," he said to loud applause. "That's what you need for Michigan."
But Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer, who saw Democratic presidential candidates Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry win Michigan's electoral votes from 1992 through 2004, turned the blame on the GOP.
"Michigan's economic problems are due to the Republican policies on things like trade and manufacturing and the auto industry," Brewer said. "The 2008 presidential election is going to be about status quo versus change. I think the message of change actually favors Democrats."
Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera added that many Michigan voters blame Bush for the state's poor economy and give him low marks on his handling of the national economy.
Some of those attending the GOP conference weren't expecting Michigan to send its electoral votes to a Republican anytime soon. The last Republican presidential contender to win the state was then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988.
"Even with the single-state recession, Republicans have a significant challenge to turn Michigan red," in part because many voters who likely would back Republicans -- such as workers with young families -- are leaving the state to look for jobs elsewhere, said GOP political consultant Greg McNeilly.
"The changes in the demography have not been good for us," he added.
Political consultant Alex Gage gave Republicans a slightly better chance of winning, but only if they show they understand the uncertainty and worry Michigan workers feel.
"It's going to be a tough state," said Gage, president and founder of TargetPoint Consulting in Alexandria, Va. But with so many states in play, "you can't just write it off if you're a Republican."