Trump’s Michigan campaign plays catch-up with Clinton

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Donald Trump’s Michigan presidential campaign organization is playing catchup with Hillary Clinton’s team, adding six senior staffers two weeks before Labor Day, which marks the final two months of the campaign.

Matt and Meshawn Maddock opened an unofficial Trump campaign field office in Walled Lake. Others have complained of a yard sign shortage.

The Trump campaign said Sunday it recently hired six “experienced operatives,” two days after the Republican New York billionaire rallied supporters in Dimondale as part of his second campaign stop in Michigan in as many weeks.

Trump’s hiring in Michigan comes as some Republican activists have begun to complain publicly that the businessman’s campaign and Republican National Committee have been too slow to build up a ground game in the state, which is seen as crucial to the GOP’s White House fortunes.

A month after the Republican National Convention, yard signs for the Donald Trump-Mike Pence ticket remain “a precious commodity right now,” said GOP activist Matt Maddock, who along with his wife, Meshawn, has opened an unofficial Trump campaign field office for grassroots activists in Walled Lake.

“The grassroots are going to elect Trump,” said Maddock, a bail bondsman from Milford. “We’ve got 80 days and we’re not going to wait for anyone.”

The Trump campaign remains confident it is doing enough with the Republican National Committee to win in November.

“We are working with the Michigan Republican Party and the RNC, and will have all necessary staff and resources to win in Michigan,” Trump campaign state director Scott Hagerstrom said Monday.

The Clinton campaign announced the hiring of nine senior staffers in Michigan in early July, but has declined to publicly reveal the actual size of its field staff in Michigan.

“Both Hillary for America and the Michigan Coordinated Campaign are making robust investments,” Clinton campaign spokesman Mitchell Rivard said Monday. “We are opening offices across the state, and hiring a team of committed organizers that are focused on recruiting more volunteers, registering more voters and turning out the vote on Nov 8.”

The Michigan Republican Party has five field offices open through a joint arrangement with the RNC and Trump campaign and plans to add “multiple offices across the state in the very near future,” state GOP spokeswoman Sarah Anderson said Monday.

The Clinton campaign and Michigan Democratic Party have 11 coordinated campaign offices and plans to open five more this week in Dearborn, Royal Oak, Saginaw, Southfield and Ypsilanti.

Volunteers Bill Rauwerdink and Marian Sheridan, both of West Bloomfield, work out of an unofficial campaign field office for Donald Trump in Walled Lake.

Sign of discontent

In Macomb County, Republican activist Brian Pannebecker has become frustrated with the Trump campaign’s inability to produce yard signs in the five weeks since Indiana Gov. Mike Pence became Trump’s running mate.

“A yard sign is like the most basic, fundamental element of a campaign,” said Pannebecker, a Ford Motor Co. autoworker from Shelby Township. “I could distribute 100 Trump-Pence yard signs to UAW members, right now. ... They must not be too serious about winning Michigan.”

The Michigan Conservative Coalition, a network of GOP activists across the state, is paying for the unofficial Trump field office in Walled Lake, Maddock said.

The location is an alternative to Republicans going to the Oakland County Republican Party’s headquarters on Woodward in Bloomfield Hills to pick up campaign materials, he said.

“A lot of people would rather go to a separate campaign office,” Maddock said.

The Michigan Conservative Coalition also is organizing a statewide flash mob for Trump supporters 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 at major road intersections in the state. The group is encouraging Trump supporters to make homemade signs in lieu of official campaign signs, Maddock said.

Maddock’s efforts show support for Trump is “more organic” than past Republican presidential nominees, said Steven Ostrow, executive director of the Michigan Republican Party.

“It’s our job to try and harness those and try and direct it for the most helpful way for Donald Trump,” Ostrow said. “That’s organic grassroots activity that I don’t think we’ve seen in a long time.”

Campaign disparities

The state and national Republican parties have 41 staffers working on the presidential race in Michigan, he said.

Ostrow said it’s not unusually late for a presidential campaign to be without yard signs while still building a field operation in a state like Michigan, which Republican presidential candidates haven’t won since 1988.

“It takes time to print hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of yards signs that are going to go out throughout the country,” he said.

Prior to the recent hiring of six campaign staffers, the Trump campaign operated in Michigan for months with just Hagerstrom, who also was dispatched to other states during the spring primaries.

Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the Democrats and Clinton will have a campaign staff in Michigan that is “significantly larger than the Trump campaign.” But he declined to reveal the number of paid employees who will be based in Michigan.

The Clinton campaign is opening numerous offices and beefing up staff in Michigan in response to Trump’s attempt to appeal to blue-collar voters, Dillon said.

“This is an election cycle where you can’t take anything for granted,” he said Monday. “A strong field cooperation is critical in any swing state to win.”

Democrats have integrated their voter contact and persuasive efforts so paid staff and volunteers pitch not just Clinton, but candidates for other elected offices, Dillon said.

“This really comes from Secretary Clinton herself — she believes in not only winning but making sure Democrats at all levels win, too, so we can all help implement a common-sense progressive agenda,” Dillon said.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood