Some west Michigan counties may have contributed as much to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s narrow victory in Michigan as his vote tally in Macomb County.
Trump won Macomb, the state’s third largest county, by 48,348 votes, according to uncertified results. But the New York businessman’s second highest vote total margin came in west Michigan’s Ottawa County, where his 61 percent to 31 percent victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton translated into a 44,055-vote cushion.
Michigan Trump campaign co-chair Pete Hoekstra said Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga’s campaign efforts in west Michigan proved to be critical to Trump’s success.
“If Bill had not come out as aggressively as he did, we probably would not have won the state,” said Hoekstra, a Holland Republican and former congressman.
The socially conservative west portion of Michigan is a traditional Republican stronghold that backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas during the GOP primary. Trump’s weakness in the region continued into the general election campaign, when Republican Huizenga found out that polling showed him and the novice politician performing worse than expected.
The third-term congressman from Zeeland said he was polling 14 percentage points ahead of the GOP presidential nominee in his six-county district along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Anecdotally, Huizenga’s campaign heard some undecided voters in the presidential race were considering staying home on Election Day or voting for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson.
Up to that point, Huizenga had been a non-vocal supporter of Trump after backing U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida during the primaries.
Huizenga said his campaign responded with an intensified “all-out push” to turn out conservative voters in west Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District.
“We made a very conscious effort about eight weeks ago to really ramp it up and put the pedal to the metal here to work on making sure our base came out,” he said, noting the campaign boosted spending on digital and mail advertising.
The other two Republican congressmen in west Michigan — Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Justin Amash of the Grand Rapids area — refused to endorse Trump or help him win their districts, where he struggled during the state’s March 8 presidential primary.
“It’s hard to get your base motivated when two out of three of your congressmen are saying it doesn’t really matter who’s your next president,” Hoekstra said.
Attorney General Bill Schuette, who was the only statewide elected GOP official to campaign for Trump, also credited Huizenga for helping Trump become the first Republican presidential nominee in 28 years to carry Michigan.
“There was a big effort to increase the intensity level in west Michigan,” Schuette said Friday. “Part of the dynamic of winning a statewide race in Michigan is you’ve got to have big, big numbers in west Michigan.”
As Huizenga ramped up his re-election efforts, the Trump campaign also gave west Michigan added attention.
Trump came to Kent County for an Oct. 31 rally at the Deltaplex basketball arena in Walker, where Huizenga became the first and only Michigan congressman to share a stage with the real estate developer during the campaign. The businessman ended up barely winning the county, 48 percent to 45 percent, according to unofficial results.
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, held three rallies in Kalamazoo, Holland and Traverse City in the final four days of the campaign. Pence came back to Grand Rapids with Trump for a 12:30 a.m. rally Tuesday, less than seven hours before the polls opened.
Huizenga also sought to help protect Republican candidates farther down the ballot, particularly state Rep. Holly Hughes who was in a close race against former Democratic Rep. Collene Lamonte in Muskegon County.
“Rather than just worry about me, we wanted to make sure it was good for the team — from Trump all the way down to Holly Hughes and state reps, and we had some very contentious county commission races,” Huizenga said.
It paid off.
Muskegon County turns
Huizenga said he won Muskegon County for the first time — by about 6,000 votes over Democrat Dennis Murphy — and outpaced Trump by 7.5 percentage points across the district. Hughes defeated Lamonte by 2,400 votes in the 91st state House District.
The Muskegon County outcome appears to have helped Trump narrow what had been a large gap between Republican and Democratic presidential candidates in the past four elections.
Trump lost Muskegon County to Clinton by less than 1 percentage point.
In 2012, President Barack Obama carried Muskegon County by nearly 18 percentage points over Republican Mitt Romney. Obama won by an even bigger margin of 29 percentage points in 2008.
Former Republican President George W. Bush lost Muskegon County by more than 11 percentage points in both 2000 and 2004.
When speaking to voters, Huizenga said encouraged them to view the presidential election as not a single candidate for a four-year term, but a 40-year impact on the U.S. Supreme Court through judicial nominations.
“That really seemed to resonate with a lot of people,” he said. “Like everybody else in a very contentious election, I lost some votes, though, over that. I also gained some votes over that.”