Stateline Story

Voters in Michigan Uninspired By Choices

BRIGHTON, MI -- Wander into the Cozy Inn, an easy drive from the college towns of Ann Arbor and East Lansing, and owner Sally Everet captures the spirit of the campaign season in this presidential battleground state.

Amid posters and photos of Detroit professional sports teams, Ms. Everet works the bar, signaling a message of another kind.

Ms. Everet's T-shirt declares: "Someday a woman will be president."

Every national campaign season since Ronald Reagan first won the presidency, Ms. Everet has donned the attire as a not-so-subtle reminder to her customers that a woman can indeed do anything a man can.

"Next time, there will be a woman on the ticket," Ms. Everet declares, offering her doubts about Vice President Al Gore and his Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. "Surely, there is woman out there who is better than those two," she says.

Bar patrons John Andres and Andy Kraft have learned to live with what they regard as the not-so-ideal choices in this year's race.

Kraft, the manager of a retail clothing store, and a "strong Republican," shook Barbara Bush's hand when she passed through the area recently and said he would vote for her son. Echoing Bush's mantra, Kraft says, "I believe in smaller government, individual initiative."

His friend Andres, a restaurant manager, is reluctantly supporting Gore. "I really don't like Bush," he says.

The two then proceeded to argue about the economy, the Clinton administration and the role of the media in educating the public. Each conceded they did not have the statistics to counter the other's claims, but both fear what might happen to the country if the opposing candidate wins.

That's the way it is throughout one of the most politically split states in the nation. Michigan has an old-line liberal Democrat, Carl Levin, and a conservative Republican, Spencer Abraham, in the U.S. Senate. Abraham is in a fierce battle with two-term Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow to retain his seat.

The Detroit Free Press recently endorsed Stabenow, saying, "She would add a helpful centrist voice to a Senate that has been tipping more noticeably to the right."

That race, the Bush-Gore battle and a statewide vote on a ballot initiative that would create a massive school-voucher program give Michigan voters a lot to think about come Election Day.

In Ann Arbor, thinking about presidential politics is a quadrennial pastime for Jeffrey Pickett, owner of Kaleidescope Books and Collectibles. Every four years, he fills his store window with a hodgepodge of campaign memorabilia -- Hart for President button, Time magazine covers of presidential candidates John Anderson and Jimmy Carter, an intriguingly titled book, "The Psychiatric Profile of Richard Nixon," and so on.

As for this year's presidential race, Pickett sarcastically says: "It's a cult of personalities contest."

Pickett, an unenthusiastic Gore supporter, says departing President Bill Clinton will be greatly missed. "Clinton had a sense of where people were at. He made sure that your concerns were his," he says.

With 18 electoral votes at stake, and the question of who will win them very much in doubt, Michigan could indeed be the Super Bowl state of the election. Why else would Bush and Gore keep turning up here with the seeming frequency of cars rolling off a Detroit-area assembly line.

Michigan has been a bellwether in previous elections. Next Tuesday, it could happen again even though many voters seem more resigned to their choices than relish them.