In recent years, now that their professional hockey team is the best in the business, Detroit has been referred to as “Hockeytown” in honor of the Red Wings.
But for the last 50 years or so, a suburb of the Motor City has essentially owned that moniker, and that's St. Clair Shores. So on an early autumn weeknight, the local rink is packed with young kids ankle-skating their way up and down the ice while their moms cram the chilly stands to cheer them on.
On this particular night the moms have all donned new white T-shirts with “Hockey Mom” emblazoned on the front, and no wonder. In today's political climate, to be a “Hockey Mom” is to be, well, special. And no place in America is being treated more specially than Macomb County, of which St. Clair Shores is a part.
Macomb is one of those battlegrounds within the battleground state of Michigan. The televisions are crammed with ads touting the Republican and Democratic candidates, the phone lines overheat with solicitations to vote for either one, and doorbells ring out with canvassers’ calls.
“The economy is really bad here,” says one of the moms in the stands. “So I think this attention is good.”
Michigan is the poster child for what ails America:
Unemployment is the nation's highest. The housing market is in ruins. The city of Detroit proper is ailing. The auto industry is on the skids.
So the notion that these hockey moms, and other female voters, will be conned into voting for a TV ad or a jingle is just straight-out wrong.
“You cannot say, ‘Well, Barack Obama appeals to women, so therefore Michigan’s going to be his state’ or ‘John McCain has this running mate who's a woman, so therefore that's going to capture everybody’ — you just can't,” says Detroit radio host Mitch Albom.
Instead, Michigan's voters are taking a long, hard look at all the promises being made to them by candidates who keep showing up in their state.
Interestingly enough, most voters suggest they can still remember the last time they got this much attention. It was the last election.
“Quite frankly we're like the girl at the prom who was the wallflower that people are finally asking to dance,” says Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press.
Still, Macomb County could very easily determine which candidate wins Michigan, so voters are passionate as they weigh the choices.
“Sarah Palin, I believe, is far too conservative on the social issues for me to ever support that ticket,” says one mom. (Clearly a hockey mom for Obama in this instance.)
When another points out she was “born a Republican, very Republican ... I don't swing,” the crowd breaks into laughter.
The hockey rink in any town is a great place to sample public opinion, and these days in St. Clair Shores, maybe even more so.
Because coming off the ice at the end of practice are these women's kids, and that is who they'll be thinking of when they mark their ballot.