The debate today in Michigan is set against a stark backdrop of high unemployment and low economic growth. The American auto manufacturers face tough competition from abroad and a challenging legislative landscape with the Congress threatening to impose Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that will give a distinct advantage to Asian companies. Detroit is a city run by a corrupt mayor that has become increasingly unlivable over the past four decade, beset by high crime and horrible schools.

Michigan faces the worst economy in the country. It has been run by a once popular but now besieged Democratic governor. Dearborn, where the debate will actually happen, has one of the largest Muslim populations of any city in America.

Many of the pundits will focus on the arrival of Fred Thompson as the newest face of the Republican primary. But the voters of Michigan represent both an opportunity and a challenge for the GOP. It represents an opportunity because the Democrats have run Michigan into the ground. It represents a challenge because the Republicans’ traditional reliance on free trade and lower taxes doesn’t necessarily work as a sellable prescription for what ails the Michigan economy.

Michigan has a large population of Reagan Democrats. These are ethnic voters who liked Reagan because he seemed like one of them, but often vote Democrat because of their economic populism. I think the Reagan Democrats will be the real swing voters in this election, and whoever wins the Michigan primary has to be able to bring these voters over to the Republican column in the general election.

Here are some questions that ought to be asked during the Detroit debate later Tuesday:

How can your healthcare plan help Detroit’s automakers deal with the crippling costs of healthcare?

How will you deal with the issue of counterfeit brake parts that are flooding in from China?

Would you sign legislation that will increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles but also tilt the playing field to Asian auto companies and against domestic manufacturers?

Do you think extremist Muslim imams should be allowed to preach their vision of hatred in the United States?

What is your plan to deal with the chronic unemployment that has bedeviled Michigan?

Do you have a plan to bring the corrupt mayor of Detroit to justice?

Is there anything that can be done to attack the crime and stop the murders in Detroit?

Michigan has problems. Let’s hope the GOP field can talk about some solutions that the voters of Michigan find credible.