Clinton’s staff dwarfs Trump’s in Michigan

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Hillary Clinton is beefing up her campaign in Michigan by preparing to deploy up to 200 field staff in a state that Democratic presidential candidates have not lost in a generation.


The Clinton campaign’s build-up is in stark contrast to presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump, who has one full-time campaign employee on the ground in Michigan.

New York businessman Trump is opting to let the Republican National Committee assemble campaign staff for the fall election ground game, which is seen as crucial for helping the GOP retain control of its U.S. House delegation, the Michigan House of Representatives and state Supreme Court.

The RNC has 34 staff in Michigan, and the state Republican Party has seven staffers dedicated to coordinating presidential election turnout, state GOP Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said.

The Republican field organizing is modeled after Gov. Rick Snyder’s successful 2014 re-election, RNC spokesman Rick Gorka said.

“We’re really working to build off of that effort,” Gorka said.

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Major political party presidential nominees usually hire campaign staffers in Michigan to help attract voters to the polls, where they also are expected to vote for other candidates of the same party farther down the ballot. Trump has been reluctant to follow this model, reportedly not assembling a campaign staff in Pennsylvania, another traditionally Democratic-leaning state he has targeted for victory.

Clinton, the former secretary of state and U.S. senator from New York, is hiring up to 200 campaign workers in Michigan in what will be the biggest show of force since the 2004 election, according to a Democratic Party leader familiar with the campaign’s plans who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Clinton campaign’s added help on the ground may be driven in part by her surprising loss in Michigan’s March 8 presidential primary to Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. The 74-year-old democratic socialist won all but 10 of Michigan’s 83 counties in his 49.8-48.2 percent victory.

“You don’t send that many staffers to a state that doesn’t matter or you’re comfortable with and you’ve got locked up,” said Darren Littell, a Lansing-based Republican consultant.

The RNC has 70 trained and heavily engaged volunteers “to supplement the 40 paid staffers we have in Michigan,” Gorka said.

“The RNC always takes the lead on the ground game, whereas the (Democratic National Committee) is more candidate-driven on ground game,” he said.

McDaniel declined to say whether the state or national Republican parties would be adding more staff as the Nov. 8 election approaches.

“I’m not going to give my whole playbook out,” McDaniel said.

But Clinton’s plan means her campaign could have as much as a 5-1 advantage in paid staffing unless the Michigan GOP and the RNC decide to deploy more people.

Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the Trump campaign’s reliance on the RNC to build a campaign team in the state is “woefully inadequate.”

“If you don’t have a staff that’s working for the actual presidential campaign, then you don’t have a staff,” Dillon said. “Frankly, I’m not surprised. Who the hell in Michigan who wants to have a political future would want to work for Donald Trump?”


Campaign structure eyed

In the race for the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency, Michigan has 16 electoral votes and has not been carried by a Republican since then-Vice President George H.W. Bush’s 1988 victory.

Trump’s lack of campaign infrastructure is showing up in the battleground states of Colorado and Pennsylvania, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“How does he get to 270 without states like Michigan and Pennsylvania?” Sabato said. “The Rust Belt strategy is the strategy. There is not another strategy.”

The lack of campaign personnel appears to have more to do with cost than with Trump’s wanting to continue his primary strategy of maximizing television news appearances, he said.

“I just think he doesn’t want to pay for these things,” Sabato said, adding that “his campaign headquarters is on Twitter.”

Michael Moon, chairman of the Genesee County Republican Party, said he has been in regular contact with Trump’s national spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, who told him the campaign plans to deploy a heavy campaign presence along the Interstate 75 corridor from Detroit to Bay City.

The Trump campaign is waiting until after the July 18-21 Republican National Convention in Cleveland to print new campaign signs with his running mate’s name, Moon said.

“I was told there’s going to be a huge roll-out as soon as he announces who his VP pick will be,” Moon said. “Michigan’s one of his priorities. There will be a lot bigger presence, from what I’m hearing.”

The Genesee and Saginaw county Republican parties hosted Trump last August for his first campaign rally in the state at the Birch Run Expo Center.

“I think he’s going to be visiting us soon,” Moon said.

Democrats assembling staff

The Clinton campaign did not deny it intends to hire up to 200 people in Michigan. It did disclose the recent hiring of nine senior staffers.

Former state Rep. Tommy Stallworth III of Detroit has been hired as political director, according to a Clinton campaign official.

Michigan’s Democratic members of Congress have loaned the Clinton campaign key staff to work on the campaign.

Walt Herzig, longtime district director for U.S. Rep. Sander Levin of Royal Oak, has been on a leave of absence since June 1 to serve as state director of Clinton’s campaign, according to Levin’s office.

Flint Township U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee’s spokesman and Deputy Chief of Staff Mitchell Rivard has joined the Clinton campaign as its Michigan communications director.

Caitlyn Stephenson, deputy chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, has taken a leave of absence to become the Michigan Democratic Party’s coordinated campaigns director.

The Clinton campaign and state Democratic Party are expected to coordinate messaging and voter contact and canvassing in an effort to help Democrats win the Michigan House of Representatives as well as other state and local offices.

Clinton’s campaign also has brought in a national Democratic operative, Stephen Neuman, to be its senior adviser in Michigan.

Neuman recently stepped down as chief of staff to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and confirmed to The Detroit News his new role with the Clinton campaign. Neuman has previously worked for Democratic governors in Maryland, North Carolina and Missouri, according to his LinkedIn resume.

The RNC’s team in Michigan is led by Rob Lagergren, who was deputy director of the national party’s Ohio operation in 2012. Lagergren has been in place since June 2015, Gorka said.

Since December, Trump’s main staffer in Michigan has been Scott Hagerstrom, a veteran Republican political operative who also was deployed to Nebraska for its primary.

In recent weeks, Hagerstrom has been speaking at gatherings of conservative Republicans as part of a statewide “listening tour” for shaping the party’s policy platform at next month’s national convention.

During a June 13 speech in Commerce Township, Hagerstrom said the Trump campaign needs volunteers to help with phone banking, canvassing and other efforts to win over undecided voters.

“We can win this state,” he said.

Hagerstrom and Trump campaign’s press secretary did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood