Michigan 7th District
The small cities and towns spotting the farmland counties of south central Michigan have been incubators of innovation since they were settled by Yankees from New England 150 years ago. The state’s public school system was established by two politicians from Marshall. A few miles away, in Battle Creek, sanitarium operator W.K. Kellogg invented cornflakes as a health food; he and his onetime patient, C.W. Post, both established factories in the late 19th century and created the American breakfast cereal industry. To the south is Hillsdale, where conservative Hillsdale College has been proudly admitting blacks and women since the 1850s and refusing all federal aid. Although the area today is politically marginal, it gave birth to the Republican Party. In 1854, the party was founded in the manufacturing and prison town of Jackson as a kind of reformist institution, growing out of the same activist impulse that produced support for women’s rights and Prohibition and opposition to the death penalty. Southern Michigan mostly rejected New Deal tinkering and was hostile to the United Auto Workers union, but the people here were receptive to moral claims made by later 20th-century reformers challenging racial segregation, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate cover-up.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Recently, this region has suffered from debilitating economic woes, largely due to the decline of the automobile industry and heavy manufacturing. Unemployment and poverty rates here have nearly doubled since 2000, with unemployment reaching double digits by 2007, even before the lowest ebb of the national recession. Jackson County, with a population of 150,000, saw 1,400 home foreclosures in 2008 alone, and in May 2009 Forbes magazine ranked the cities of Jackson and Battle Creek as two of the four worst small cities for job seekers.
The 7th Congressional District takes in all of five counties in southern Michigan plus parts of two others. Although Battle Creek retains strong Republican enclaves and the area is still culturally conservative, Democrats have gained ground by focusing on economic issues. Democrat Bill Clinton carried the district by small pluralities in 1992 and 1996, and although Republican George W. Bush won it with 51% in 2000 and 54% in 2004, Democrat Barack Obama took 52% of the district’s vote in 2008.