Grand Rapids — Donald Trump began his fifth general election campaign visit to Michigan Friday with an unannounced stop at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids followed by a high-priced fundraising luncheon at a nearby luxury hotel.
The Republican presidential nominee and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who are expected to head east for an evening rally in Novi, arrived at the museum around 12:30 p.m. after landing at the Gerald R. Ford Airport.
The unexpected arrival of Trump’s motorcade prompted shrieks of excitement from students at the museum during the annual ArtPrize competition, which brings thousands of people to downtown Grand Rapids each day. Several kids raced across the lawn and through trees for a chance to see the New York real estate mogul and former reality television star.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump tours Gerald R. Ford museum in Grand Rapids. Jonathan Oosting, The Detroit News
“Make America great again,” Jeff Hearth of Clarksville, 35, shouted as Trump toured second-floor exhibits and later shook his hand.
“That was pretty cool,” said Hearth, a banker who plans to vote for Trump this fall. “To me, it just seems scary that people get embedded with the corruption in Washington, and Donald Trump is not part of that.”
Before entering the museum, Trump visited the outdoor gravesite of Betty and Gerald Ford, where pool reporter Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times reported he laid a bouquet of red and white roses. Betty Ford died in 2011 and the former president died in December 2006.
“November 8. November 8,” Trump told visitors inside the museum, where he stopped at several exhibits detailing the life and times of Ford, the 38th U.S. president who grew up in west Michigan.
After the museum tour, Trump’s motorcade proceeded to the nearby J.W. Marriott hotel, where a group of influential donors gathered for a pricey fundraiser luncheon.
Among the attendees were a few members of the DeVoses, a family spokesman confirmed. The powerful west Michigan family backed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida going into the March Michigan primary, and former Michigan GOP Chairwoman Betsy DeVos told The News in July she was concentrating more on down-ballot races than the presidential contest.
Other attendees included former Secretary of State and one-time U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land, along with local philanthropists Miner S. and Mary Ann Keeler of the Keeler Brass Co. family.
“Everybody was very excited because we had the bonus of Giuliani being there and Gen. Michael Flynn,” said Republican National Committeewoman Kathy Berden. “It was a home run. When you’re at a fundraiser, you’re thanking the people that support you, first and foremost, and he did a wonderful job with that.”
Scott Devon of Grand Rapids, owner of Cole’s Quality Foods, attended the fundraiser with his wife and called it “great.”
“I’ve been a supporter of Trump from day one, and it’s just nice that he’s taken the time to make Michigan a priority,” Devon said. “There’s a lot of people, I think, that need to come out more that are going to back him at the end.”
Trump’s latest Michigan stop comes on the heels of a new Detroit News-WDIV poll showing Democrat Hillary Clinton with 42 percent-to-35 percent lead over Trump in a four-way contest including Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.
The businessman will likely need to do well in West Michigan, a traditional conservative stronghold, where he leads Clinton 41.2 percent to 23.6 percent, according to the Sept. 27-28 poll of likely voters conducted in the wake of Monday’s presidential debate.
Johnson, the former GOP governor of New Mexico, is polling at 20.6 percent in West Michigan, easily his strongest area of the state. The poll’s margin of error for 600 voters is plus-minus 4 percentage points, but the margin is much higher in smaller regional samples.
Clinton is flooding Michigan with campaign surrogates this week, including recent stops by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Anne Holton, the wife of Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine.
Daughter Chelsea Clinton is scheduled to campaign for her mom in Traverse City Friday afternoon. Former Democratic primary rival and ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is expected to stump Saturday for Clinton in five Michigan cities.
“The more Donald Trump comes to Michigan, the more working families here realize how much of a disaster he would be for them if he becomes president,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said in a statement ahead of Trump’s latest visit.
“Hillary Clinton has spent her life fighting for children and families, and she will continue that fight when she’s president of the United States.”
The New York businessman’s visit came as the head of his presidential campaign in Michigan said Friday officials are bringing in additional staff to help turn the state in the Republican nominee’s favor against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“We’re actually moving more staff from other states into Michigan as we speak,” Trump state director Scott Hagerstrom said Friday morning ahead of the Republican New York businessman’s arrival in Grand Rapids for a midday fundraiser.
Hagerstrom said the Trump campaign’s state directors in Oregon and Utah are being redeployed to Michigan.
“We’re actually bringing hundreds of volunteers in also,” Hagerstrom said Friday morning during a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record.”
Hagerstrom has previously said the Trump campaign has 10 employees in Michigan working with 64 campaign workers from the Republican National Committee and Michigan Republican Party.
He dismissed new polling showing Clinton with a seven-percentage-point lead in Michigan, predicting his boss would win the state by three points. The last time a Republican presidential candidate won Michigan was George H.W. Bush in 1988.
“We know there’s an enthusiasm gap, people aren’t enthused about Hillary Clinton,” he said.
The News-WDIV poll found Republicans are less enthused about the Nov. 8 election than Democrats and that the most enthusiastic likely voters are African-Americans and Detroiters, who are traditionally a reliable Democratic bloc.