By Carol Cain

(CBS Detroit) – On July 30-31 the eyes of the nation will turn to Detroit when the Democratic Presidential Debate caravan makes its second stop on the circuit downtown as the party seeks to continue to determine who will win the right to challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 27: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Dems recently established who will make the cut to be on stage either night and, it promises to be ‘must see tv.’ Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren took significant strides in the first set of debates held in Miami last week, and former Vice President Joe Biden remains reasonably comfortably in the lead (according to most polls taken after the contests). Others were unable to move the needle much from where they stood before the verbal volleys began making the upcoming two nights in the Motor City critical for all.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 27: Sen. Bernie Sanders (L) (I-VT) speaks as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (L) and former Vice President Joe Biden look on during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The party chose Detroit for an early stop in its second debate to showcase the importance it places on Michigan (the upcoming debates will air on CNN).  It is often said the road to 270 Electoral votes goes through states like Ohio and Florida and, before 2016, Michigan had been viewed as a Blue Democratic stronghold. But, the facts show otherwise (not only in the presidential contests but gubernatorial races as well).

Dating back to Republican Gov. William  Milliken, longest-serving governor from 1969-1983, the state has flipped from one party to another when the current sitting governor’s term expires. James Blanchard took office after Milliken, and John Engler followed him. Democrat Jennifer Granholm assumed the reigns of the state in 1999 and was succeeded by Republican Rick Snyder. On Jan.1, former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer began her four-year term as the state’s 49th governor.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 27: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (L) (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speak during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A close review of the last 10 presidential cycles is also revealing. While six of the last 10 presidential races were won by the Democratic Party’s nominee, four were captured by arguably the best retail politicians in recent history (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and, the winner of the White House has  captured the state’s now 16 electoral votes eight of the last 10 times (Al Gore and John Kerry lost their races in 2000 and 2004, respectively, but won Michigan). The diversity of our state and its importance to the nation’s economy (most notably through the presence of the auto industry) makes this fertile ground for those seeking the highest office in the land. Indeed, it’s why candidate Trump made it his final campaign stop in Grand Rapids early in the morning of Election Day 2016 and, why Detroit was chosen by the Democratic National Committee this early in the cycle.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 27: Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Marianne Williamson, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, former tech executive Andrew Yang, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) take the stage during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate on June 27, 2019 in Miami, Florida. A field of 20 Democratic presidential candidates was split into two groups of 10 for the first debate of the 2020 election, taking place over two nights at Knight Concert Hall of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, hosted by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While Biden still leads, he felt the sting of being the front-runner in Miami during the first debate and now officially has a target on his back. Those in addition to Warren and Harris thought to be in the top tier of candidates with a chance at the nomination at this stage (Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke) all need good nights in the Motor City later this month.

Trump’s victory in our state in 2016 shocked the nation and shook the political base to its core as Democrats appear to have gotten the message: Michigan can no longer be taken for granted.

Carol Cain is Senior Producer/Host of CBS 62’s Michigan Matters and columnist at Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at clcain@cbs.com.

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