Macomb County helped hand Donald Trump the White House in 2016. But voters in the Macomb County city of Center Line went against that trend, narrowly favoring Hillary Clinton. How that political fault line shifts could determine the 2020 presidential race.

At a pristine countertop in Center Line’s Haney’s Family Restaurant, owner Russ Haney watches the last of his midday customers filter past.

Haney’s family bought the former Howard Johnson’s franchise in 1972. He and his wife have owned it since 1988.

Haney says he could have gone elsewhere. But he loves the restaurant. He loves his job. And he loves Center Line.

“It’s a working class area, which is one of the things I’ve always liked. It’s just a blue collar area,” Haney said.


Click on the player above to listen to what Center Line residents think about politics.


Quinn Klinefelter/WDET
Quinn Klinefelter/WDET

It’s an area that should be prime Trump country.

Then-candidate Donald Trump targeted voters here with his campaign message of bringing manufacturing jobs back to a Michigan working class he said politicians had forgotten.

Yet out of almost 4,000 votes cast in Center Line for president in 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by about 400.

Haney says he’s not surprised by that result.

“I believe blue collar [workers] normally vote more Democratic than Republican in general.”

But Haney says he’s glad that partisan lean did not determine the race for the White House.  

“I like the job the President’s been doing,” he said. “The economy is good and strong. I don’t like some of the things he’s doing, like his tweeting and stuff. He could be a kinder man. But that’s not who he is.”

“I like the job the President’s been doing. The economy is good and strong. He could be a kinder man, but that’s not who he is.” – Center Line business owner Russ Haney

Nearby, waitress Crystal Douglas serves a last customer a cup of coffee while echoing Haney’s sentiment.

“Me personally, I think Trump’s doing a very good job. He does a lot that other politicians have said they were gonna do but haven’t done,” Douglas said. “He’s done more for this country in the last four years than a lot of the presidents in our past.”

Douglas adds that she’s watched the impeachment hearings play out on Capitol Hill. She says she is not impressed.

“I really don’t understand why they want to impeach him,” Douglas said. “Just because they don’t agree with his way of doing things and him being a total jerk. But he’s the President. He’s got it done. I mean our unemployment is low now thanks to him.”


Crossing the Lines

101.9 WDET’s Crossing the Lines series explores what unites the Metro Detroit region and what divides it.

Why Center Line? The city is a community with a deep history as well as a significant shift in diversity over the past 20 years. See more coverage


The View From the Parking Lot

But it’s a different story a few blocks away, in a parking lot outside a Center Line strip mall.

Neighbors Sonya Bremen and Senior Smith are standing by their parked cars, talking about the impeachment hearings.

Both say they are Democrats. And Bremen says both of them are tired of Trump.

“He acts like a child in an old man’s body. So, to me, he needs to be impeached,” Bremen said. “Because I don’t see anything that he’s really doing for our country. He’s separating families.”

Bremen says despite government data showing economic growth, many of the people she knows in Center Line are struggling financially.

“He acts like a child in an old man’s body. To me, he needs to be impeached.” – Center Line voter Sonya Bremen

“I don’t see it. To me, it’s getting worse instead of better.”

Bremen says the President could aid those who are less fortunate. Yet she says he refuses to take the necessary steps.

“Helping with health insurance for everyone, helping the poor, instead of him trying to help himself.”

Bremen’s neighbor, Senior Smith, nods at a nearby discount store. He says it is the only retailer he can afford to visit with regularity.

Laura Herberg/WDET
Laura Herberg/WDET

He says Trump is ignoring the lower-income workers he pledged to help.

“I think that just BS to get in to get to be President,” Smith says, before shifting his tone. “I don’t believe for one second that he beat Hillary Clinton. Something was crooked about it.”

Smith vows to vote for whoever becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. He says he just does not trust Republicans. Or Trump.

“Seem like that he’s taking apart [the] food stamps [program] and cutting everything. Gas prices are rising. And I think he could help do something about that if he were right. I believe that a Democrat [would] help more in that situation than a Republican.”

 

The Thin Blue (and Red) Line

The parking lot is only blocks away from Haney’s restaurant.

But they seem separated by a partisan divide almost impossible to bridge.

Yet some who have been involved in Macomb County politics say, in reality, it may not be that wide of a gulf.

That includes government affairs specialist Melissa Roy, who worked with voters as a former assistant Macomb County Executive.

“When you look at Macomb County, the line between Republican and Democrat is very thin,” Roy says. “Now obviously there are some parts of the county where that gap is much greater. But it’s communities like Center Line, Chesterfield Township, Sterling Heights, St. Clair Shores, where you have a lot of voters who identify with issues on both sides of the aisle.”

Roy says those voters may not believe that either Republicans or Democrats have all the answers.

And, some political analysts say, that means in Center Line and throughout Macomb County, voters may decide which candidate to support based more on who the person is running for office, rather than what policies they represent.

Author

  • Quinn Klinefelter is a Senior News Editor at 101.9 WDET. In 1996, he was literally on top of the news when he interviewed then-Senator Bob Dole about his presidential campaign and stepped on his feet.