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Look to Michigan for how unemployment could affect 2008

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The anger in this metro area is palpable. The unemployment rate is at 6.9 percent, more than two percentage points higher than the national average. The threat of a strike looms over one major auto-parts supplier. And an iconic employer, General Motors, has essentially told its hourly workers they shouldn't count on any kind of future with the company.

The region has been kicked around, and if you ask a lot of workers what they think about their job prospects you will get a defiant string of expletives. But under that anger is fear.

For the past 20 years, the blue-collar workers here have been told their way of life - steady employment with a good wage - is ending. But this time around there's a feeling that it's different. The Big Three auto companies are in such dire straits, there's an understanding in 2006 that it isn't that management is out to get them, it's that the global economy is transforming. And many of them don't know what to do.

The options open to former factory workers are limited. Most alternatives don't pay as well and, more important to some, don't offer anything near the benefits and healthcare packages that came with their previous jobs.

Ah yes, anger and fear, the ideal mood for an election. In this case, the 2006 Michigan gubernatorial race, a rancorous affair with few answers. Governor Jennifer Granholm (D), faced with a depleted treasury and a shrinking tax base, is forced to explain how she can fix the mess she largely inherited four years ago - talking, as every governor has for the past two decades, of diversifying the economy. Her opponent, Dick DeVos, who started Amway, hasn't revealed any plans for fixing the state, but says he knows how to create jobs.

It's early, but despite the state's troubles, Governor Granholm leads by about 10 percent according to the latest poll. Why? Well, voters in Michigan, who didn't go for President Bush in either 2000 or 2004, are more than happy to blame a lot of problems on the White House. Plus, Granholm is only in her first term and almost everyone who has read a newspaper since, oh, 1979, understands the state's problems are nothing new. Republicans are still hopeful, though, that the economy will provide enough of an opening for Mr. DeVos to slide past.

It's a race both parties are watching closely. But the real story in Michigan may not be the 2006 election, it may be the 2008 presidential race.


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