Sterling Heights– Presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are staking their chances on capturing the White House by targeting Michigan, with both candidates and their top surrogates barnstorming the state Monday before voters head to the polls.
Republican Trump rallied supporters Sunday evening in Sterling Heights and planned to finish his campaigning Monday night with an 11 p.m. rally in downtown Grand Rapids alongside his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who will speak himself at an early afternoon stop in Traverse City.
Former President Bill Clinton visited two churches in Flint and rallied union supporters Sunday at a United Auto Workers hall in Lansing campaigning for his wife.
The longtime Democrat will be followed Monday by President Barack Obama, who is being introduced by Chelsea Clinton at a noon millennial voter-focused rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Hillary Clinton, who has an afternoon rally at Grand Valley State University in Allendale – her first trip this election cycle into west Michigan.
“It’s all going to come down to Michigan,” Attorney General Bill Schuette told an estimated crowd of more than 8,000 Trump supporters at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre. “Michigan is the center of the universe.”
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said Clinton initially focused on states with early voting, but is now seeking to close the deal in places like Michigan where voters cast most ballots on Election Day.
Presidential Candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally at Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights Sunday evening. Robin Buckson
“We feel like we’ve got a lead in Michigan. We want to hold onto it, and we feel we can do that,” Podesta said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
But some Democrats were worried that a state where their party has prevailed in six consecutive presidential elections could be swept up by the enthusiasm swinging toward Trump’s anti-Washington revolt.
“There is a crack in the blue wall, and it has to do with trade,” Democratic strategist and former Obama adviser Van Jones said Sunday on CNN. “This is the ghost of Bernie Sanders. There is a discontent among some Democratic voters over trade, and some blame Hillary Clinton. So you’ve got to go back there and shore it up.”
The Clinton campaign is pulling out the stops to keep Trump from winning Michigan, where a Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows her with a 4.7-percentage-point lead. But Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Michigan an “absolute toss-up” and said a Trump win here would all but guarantee him the presidency.
“It’s all over” if Trump wins Michigan, Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The Clinton campaign’s defense strategy in the final days has focused on boosting the turnout of African-Americans and millennials as well as making a late play for undecided voters in conservative west Michigan, where Trump performed the worst during Michigan’s March 8 GOP primary.
“We have to decide if we’re stronger together or if it’s better to spend all of our time tearing each other down,” Clinton said Sunday at predominantly black Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Flint.
In his next-to-last campaign trip to Michigan, Trump hit on his populist campaign themes of regaining lost manufacturing jobs and breaking the political establishment’s grip on the federal government. He also panned Clinton’s Monday return to Michigan.
“They’re worried. Hillary’s going to come out tomorrow,” Trump said Sunday. “I told her via television: Stop, you’re wasting your time. They’re too smart.”
Michigan Republicans are taking comfort in the last-minute Obama and Clinton visits.
“Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are desperately coming here to keep this state blue – and they’re doing it because of you,” Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told Trump’s rally in Sterling Heights. “Hillary Clinton is having some sleepless nights because of you.”
Michigan is a must-win state for Trump, said Rick Tyler, a Republican strategist and MSNBC commentator. His narrow path to the presidency requires victories in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa, he said.
“One of these blue states has got to go their way or it’s just not going to happen for Trump,” Tyler said. “Michigan wouldn’t historically fit the Republican Party, but it might fit Trump.”
The businessman has “got to break one of these states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire,” he added.
Trump faces long odds of winning a Democratic-leaning state such as Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota, said Greg McNeilly, a Republican strategist from Grand Rapids.
“They’re doing it from a defensive stronghold, and Trump is doing it as an offense move, and it’s clearly a Hail Mary play,” McNeilly said.
Even as Trump has narrowed the gap in Michigan polls against Clinton, most have shown he has continued to underperform in west Michigan, McNeilly said.
Before he joins Trump in Grand Rapids Monday night, Pence will hold a 1 p.m. rally in Traverse City, his fourth rally in out-state Michigan in the past five days.
“(Trump) needs west Michigan Republicans to come out in the numbers we’ve seen them come out in the past and ... vote for him. That’s been their play the last week,” Republican consultant Jamie Roe said Sunday. “I think it’s been a smart play, and I think it’s been working with the tightening we’ve been seeing in the polls. It’s time to finish the job.”
The Clinton campaign has seen an opportunity to exploit Trump’s weaknesses with Republicans and independents — particularly women — and convince undecided voters to break their way.
“I think there’s a lot of people in western Michigan … even people who may tend to be Republican, who don’t like the way Donald Trump treats women,” said Stephen Neuman, senior adviser to Clinton’s Michigan campaign.
Trump’s controversial characterization of the economic well-being of African-Americans living in inner cities, his feud with the Gold Star family of a fallen Muslim-American soldier and “offensive comments he’s made about Muslims and about veterans” can still be used against him in conservative west Michigan, Neuman said.
“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to talk to independent voters and even some folks who might otherwise tend to vote Republican who just recognize that Donald Trump has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be the commander-in-chief and control the nuclear codes,” he told The News.
The Clinton campaign has been cautious about taking Michigan for granted since Sanders upset her in the March 8 primary.
Trump, like Sanders, has railed against the effect of U.S. trade deals and their impact on manufacturing jobs in Michigan.
“He’s the only candidate who will do anything and everything to protect our jobs from going overseas, and he’ll put American jobs first,” said Terry Bowman, a Ford Motor Co. worker and founder of the Union Conservatives group.
U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, said he understands how Trump resonates with some over the fear they have coming out of the worst economic times since the Great Depression. But the veteran congressman said they are being hoodwinked by Trump’s rhetoric.
“I think the county is in danger of being bamboozled,” he said. “And I think the world is.”
Clinton finds herself in a similar position as Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore faced in 2004 and 2000, respectively, returning to Michigan the day before Election Day to defend the state against Republican George W. Bush.
Both Democrats won Michigan those years, but Gore narrowly lost Florida by 537 votes.
“Imagine if he’d gone to Tampa that Monday night. Or pick any place in Florida,” said Rusty Hills, who was chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in 2000. “Even though we didn’t win Michigan, I felt we did our job because we pulled (Gore) out of Florida.”