Column: Why is Biden spending quality time in Michigan’s Saginaw County? Here’s what he told me

President Biden greeting a man and a teenager under umbrellas
In Michigan last week, President Biden met with a local pastor, Hurley Coleman III, and his 13-year-old son, Hurley Coleman IV.
(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

Five states went from red to blue in 2020. My home state, Michigan, is one of them. Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania are the others.

Within that fab five, just eight counties that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 flipped for President Biden in 2020. One such county is Saginaw, a metro area in Michigan of about 200,000. So, if you’re wondering why Biden would make two campaign stops here in the rain last week, that’s part of the answer.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

In the past 40 years, only two Republicans have managed to win Saginaw in the general election — Ronald Reagan and Trump. Reagan flipping it was not a surprise. His opponent, Walter Mondale, managed to win only his own state in 1984 — Minnesota — and to be honest, he barely managed that.


However, Trump’s victory in 2016 was so shocking to Democrats that in her memoir “What Happened,” Hillary Clinton wrote: “And I suppose it is possible that a few more trips to Saginaw or a few more ads on the air in Waukesha could have tipped a couple thousand votes here and there.”

Despite concerns about his age, polling against Trump and the “uncommitted” movement in the Michigan primary, the party has no other viable option in the 2024 election.

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Trump beat Clinton here by 1,073 votes.

Biden flipped it back blue by only 303.

In the big picture, Saginaw made up less than 2% of the statewide turnout in 2020. If it shrinks further, Biden could be in real trouble — and that’s a concern in light of the more than 100,000 voters who marked “uncommitted” in the state’s Democratic primary in protest of the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Gaza.

Saginaw is the only county in Michigan that voted twice for Obama/Biden that Biden/Harris was able to take away from Trump. All the other counties stayed red. So to secure a win in Michigan come November, he’ll need to take Clinton’s advice and make “a few more trips to Saginaw.”

His first stop was at the home of Saginaw school board member Kevin Rooker and Bill Ostash, who in 2018 became the city’s first out gay councilman. Congressman Dan Kildee was also among the estimated group of 50 supporters, volunteers and community leaders in attendance.

What the former president reveals on the stump should wipe away any doubt about which candidate is unhinged.

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The second was at Pleasant View Golf Course. I was the only journalist allowed to be there for a conversation Biden had with Hurley Coleman III and his 13-year-old son, Hurley Coleman IV. The family comes from a long line of preachers. A politician rolling through a Black church come campaign season is a familiar scene. However, Biden and the Colemans sitting in the clubhouse — the appearance outdoors was canceled because of rain — was not the usual fare. The campaign is incorporating more of these kitchen-table conversations to give Biden a chance to listen more than speak.

It’s no secret that Biden is relying heavily on both the Black and the LGBTQ+ communities for support. However, there hasn’t been much chatter about Biden losing support from the latter. It’s the reported erosion of Black support that has both dominated headlines and been reflected in the primaries.


In his conversation with the family, Biden mentioned his long history of fighting racial injustice. Afterward I asked the president what it was like hearing media reports regarding the idea of fading Black support. He said it was “kind of fascinating” given his record, adding that the Black community, he said, “is the reason I got elected the first time in 1972 as a senator — I got over 85% of the African American vote.”

“As that old expression goes,” the president continued, “the Black community brought me to the dance … and so it’s always been where my interest, my heart has been. And if you notice, I have more African Americans in my Cabinet than anybody ever has. I’ve appointed more [Black] circuit court judges than every other president in American history. I appointed the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, the first Black woman as vice president.”

There are some Black voters who are disappointed with Congress not passing comprehensive criminal justice reform or voting rights protections, or who don’t feel like they’re sharing in the gains of the soaring stock market under this administration. Biden’s hope is that these intimate conversations will help him make his case to potentially disaffected voters — a strong enough case to inspire turnout.

“As a young, African American male who’s working-class, faith from my life has been a major component,” the elder Coleman told me after his talk with Biden. “I’ve seen it operate in my grandparents’ life, in my father’s life, and now we’re putting it in my son’s life. So to know that our leader of the free world, our president, believes in faith and his core belief is embedded with faith, the decisions that he makes, the responsibility of delegating and leading this entire country, he’s leaning and depending on God and his faith to make the decisions that’s needed — and I think that if our president has a core belief in faith, then that faith is going to take this country where it needs to go.”