Democrats rally in Detroit: 'Get out the damn vote'

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, center, gets a huge at an IBEW union hall in Detroit before a Sunday (Nov. 4, 2018) rally. Former Gov. James Blanchard, right, offers encouragement.

Detroit — With two days left before the election, Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer headlined an energetic rally Sunday afternoon in Detroit, urging supporters in the state’s largest city to “get out the damn vote” on Tuesday.

Whitmer, who has campaigned on a pledge to “fix the damn roads” and is crisscrossing the state in a bus emblazoned with the aggressive rallying cry, called her turnout message a new spin on an “oldie but goodie.”

“We’ve got 77 stops in these last seven days, and we’re just trying to make sure people understand that who the governor is matters from the minute you turn on the tap to brush your teeth, the schools your kids go to and the roads you’re traveling,” she told The Detroit News after the rally.

Hundreds of union members and local Democrats had packed the IBEW Local 58 union hall, a zero-net-energy building powered by solar and geothermal energy. They dined on free hot dog lunches and danced the cha-cha slide before Whitmer and other candidates took the stage.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, up for re-election against Republican challenger John James, told the union crowd that issues like prevailing wage are on this fall's ballot. Michigan’s Republican-led state Legislature earlier this year repealed the law, which guaranteed union-rate wages and benefits on government construction projects.

“If it rains Tuesday, get an umbrella,” Stabenow said. “Prevailing wage is worth an umbrella. If it’s cold Tuesday, get a coat. It’s Michigan, we can do this.”

Stabenow said "who we are" is  also on the ballot. She and other Democrats framed the election as a referendum on Republican President Donald Trump.

“This is the time that we get to vote out hate, and the way we do it is by electing people like us into places where we make decisions right now, to push back,” said U.S. House candidate Rashida Tlaib, Detroit Democrat who is favored to win election in the 13th Congressional District.

 “I cannot wait to kick some Trump ass when I get to Congress,” said Tlaib, a former state representative, activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Turnout in Detroit and other liberal areas could help decide Tuesday’s election. Democrats typically struggle to turn out voters in mid-term elections but have been enthused by unusually strong absentee ballot activity.

As of Friday, more than 1.16 million voters had requested absentee ballots, a 53 percent increase at the same point in 2014. Clerks had reported more than 819,000 ballot returns as of Friday, also a 53 percent increase over 2014 but still slightly below the pace of the 2016 presidential election.

Returns were up 44 percent in Democratic-dominated Wayne County.

“We’re seeing presidential-level turnout in early voting this year,” said Garlin Gilchrist, Whitmer’s running mate and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “You know why? Because we already know we’re going to make history on Tuesday.”

Other speakers included Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, secretary of state nominee Jocelyn Benson, attorney general nominee Dana Nessel and state Supreme Court nominees Sam Bagenstos and Megan Cavanagh.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, but I do not remember a year when we had this much talent on the Democratic ticket,” said Duggan, who praised Stabenow for securing federal funding to hep demolish vacant and blighted buildings in the city.

“If you live in Detroit, Debbie Stabenow has made your neighborhood better.”

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano, a leading figure in the #MeToo sexual assault awareness movement, joined Whitmer's bus tour on Saturday and appeared with Democrats in Lansing, Flint, Birmingham, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. 

"The reason I am here is to simply show my gratitude to all of you for being a part of this process, for being here today and committing to making the country better," Milano told canvassers Saturday morning in Lansing.

Milano called Whitmer an "amazing" and "smart" candidate, "but I think the thing I'm most impressed with is how the Michigan Democrats are sort of running together almost like a sports team, which is pretty awesome. They're going to win together."

Whitmer was scheduled to rally with Democrats later Sunday at a UAW hall in Warren and with Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in Ann Arbor.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette, U.S. Senate hopeful John James and other GOP candidates campaigned Saturday in Holland with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who now serves as an attorney for President Donald Trump.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is expected to join the GOP ticket Sunday night at a Downriver shooting range in Taylor for what Schuette's campaign previously advertised as a "Second Amendment get-out-the-vote rally."

Stabenow said she did not know what to make of the late visit by Conway, whose visit is designed to help boost James, the Farmington Hills businessman and Army veteran who is challenging the Democratic incumbent from Lansing. 

"I find it an interesting choice," Stabenow said. "He's reinforcing, over and over again, that he's with Donald Trump 2,000 percent. I don't think that's what we in Michigan need. What we need is someone who's with Michigan 2,000 percent."

Vice President Mike Pence rallied with Michigan Republicans on Monday in Oakland County and Grand Rapids. Former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden have stumped for Michigan Democrats in recent weeks.