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In Michigan, Trump expands support in rural counties; Biden carries suburbs

michigan election day
Michigan experienced a surge in absentee voting in the November election, and a Republican proposal would place restrictions on ballot drop boxes and require voters to have an ID to cast a ballot. (Bridge file photo)

As an anxious nation turns its glare upon the Midwest, it’s staring hard at Michigan and incomplete election results that show President Donald Trump clinging to a lead.

Trump, who as much as declared victory in the state around 2:30 a.m., led much of Tuesday night and deep into Wednesday morning. 

But as other county results poured in, Biden had narrowed the gap considerably by 7:30 a.m. and it was becoming close to a dead heat.

A deeper look to both the official and unofficial tallies show there is cause for both optimism and alarm for both Republicans and Democrats.

Trump, a Republican, was able to expand his support in rural counties from 2016, when he upset Democrat Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, he rolled up impressive numbers throughout the Thumb and northern Michigan.

The biggest gain, in terms of margin, has so far been in St. Clair County, where he beat former Vice President Joe Biden by 3,400 more votes than he had bested former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But Trump’s margins dropped in many traditionally heavy Republican counties, including Ottawa and Midland counties. 

Ottawa, once considered one of the most Republican counties in the state, backed Trump with 60 percent of the vote. But he won in 2016 with 62 percent; his victory margin over his Democratic rival fell from 43,494 in 2016 to 35,945 this year, in unofficial returns.

For the Democratic Biden, his biggest source of optimism is that, as of 7:30 a.m., six of the eight counties that backed Clinton have not reported complete results yet. 

What the partials show, however, is Biden overperforming Clinton, especially in Oakland and Washtenaw counties.

In Washtenaw, Biden has won by over 100,000 votes, well above Clinton’s 78,000 win. And in Oakland, in partial results, Biden is already leading by 80,000 with a number of heavy Democratic cities yet to finalize votes.

In Wayne County, with half of precincts reporting, Biden is winning by over 200,000 votes; Clinton had beaten Trump in 2016 by just over 290,000 and it looks like Biden will top that number.

Detroit, with just under half of the precincts reporting, has given Biden a 200,000-vote margin (and 94 percent of all votes), already close to the 227,000-vote margin Clinton won, which was well below the support for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.

The state’s third largest county, Macomb, has incomplete results as well. But in southern Macomb County communities like Warren and Roseville, Biden has done better than Clinton while Trump still holds, with incomplete results, a 38,000-vote lead.

Some of the most staunch Trump areas are still not complete, including Macomb Township. But Warren, which gave Clinton a 5,500-vote win, is giving Biden a nearly 10,000-vote margin.

Overall it looks like education is a predictor of Trump’s success: In the 10 counties with complete results where Trump’s victory margins declined, all but one have a higher percentage of college graduates than the state average.

Over 32 percent of all adults in Ottawa, Grand Traverse, Livingston, Clinton and Emmet counties have a college degree, compared to 28 percent statewide.

Trump won each, with 52 percent to 60 percent of the vote. But he got nearly 18,000 fewer votes in the five counties, making him have to pick up thousands more elsewhere to offset the margins he’s likely to see in big Democrat counties.

And in the 44 pro-Trump counties where he saw his margins grow, only one, Houghton, has more college graduates than the state average. His biggest gains were in places where fewer than 15 percent of adults have a college degree.

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