Trump visits Mich. to tap donors, rally supporters

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump isn’t just coming back to Michigan on Friday to rally supporters in his outsider bid for the White House.

He is also coming for the first time to raise money from donors who say they are more optimistic the New York businessman can win Michigan — a state Republican presidential candidates have lost for six consecutive elections.

Trump will attend a mid-day fundraiser Friday in the Grand Rapids area and a second gathering with donors later that day in Metro Detroit, said Lena Epstein, a co-chair of Trump’s Michigan campaign.

“People want to spend the money. They see the connection between their dollars and the outcome (of the election),” Epstein told The Detroit News. “There’s definitely a momentum gaining, otherwise he wouldn’t continue coming back.”

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon acknowledged Wednesday that the Hillary Clinton campaign’s deployment this week of four surrogates in Michigan is evidence of a tight race in Michigan. But he argued the Democratic nominee is gaining strength after her performance in Monday’s debate.

“I certainly don’t think (Trump) has the momentum in Michigan, particularly after his bizarre performance in the debate the other night,” Dillon said.

Trump’s continued campaigning in Michigan bodes well for other Republican candidates on the ballot who just a few months ago feared Trump could be an electoral disaster, said Greg McNeilly, a GOP political strategist from Grand Rapids.

“The tighter it gets, the more the Democrats lose their presidential year advantage,” McNeilly said. “To the extent that this holds, the (Michigan) House Democrats are watching the under-performing Clinton campaign kill their chances of winning the majority.”

Trump’s Friday visit will be his fifth trip to Michigan since the July 18-21 Republican National Convention. Clinton has campaigned just once in Michigan since the Democratic National Convention in late July.

But the former secretary of state’s campaign has dispatched her running mate, Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, twice to Michigan for rallies in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife in Detroit on Labor Day and their daughter, Chelsea, will campaign Friday in Traverse City after she last week visited Grand Rapids, East Lansing and Flint during a two-day trip to Michigan.

On Saturday, one of Clinton's former Democratic presidential opponents — ex-Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley — will campaign for her in five cities.

Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, stumped for votes Tuesday and Wednesday in the state for Clinton, who also has been aided by the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Chicago and Hollywood actors attending voter registration drives in Michigan on her behalf.

Clinton and the Democratic Party have invested heavily in staff, canvassing and voter registration in Michigan, opening 34 field offices across the state.

“That’s why we have a serious campaign in Michigan to make sure he doesn’t succeed,” Dillon said. “(Clinton) has a lot of very respected, high level surrogates speaking on her behalf — something Donald Trump doesn’t have.”

Trump’s Metro Detroit fundraiser will be held Friday night after Trump’s 5 p.m. rally at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, according to two sources familiar with fundraising plans.

One source close to the Trump campaign could not disclose the exact location of the Metro Detroit fundraiser, but said it would be a high-end gathering between Trump and donors who pledge to raise at least $50,000 each for the billionaire’s presidential campaign.

The fundraisers mark Trump’s first time he has come to Michigan to raise money. Hillary and Bill Clinton have held five fundraisers in Michigan over the past 14 months.

Trump’s combination of fundraisers and a campaign rally in the critical electoral battleground of Oakland County signal Trump’s commitment to breaking a GOP losing streak in Michigan dating back to President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 loss to Bill Clinton.

“That, to me, tells me that the state is play,” said Rusty Hills, a former Michigan Republican Party chairman. “The fact that he’s come back to do his first fundraiser here would indicate there’s been an uptick in support for Trump, primarily among the donor class, which is important for him because he’s got to match Secretary Clinton’s firepower.”

Clinton’s one post-convention visit was an Aug. 11 speech in Warren on the economy, three days after Trump gave a speech on taxes and jobs at the Detroit Economic Club.

Trump came back to Michigan on Aug. 19 for a rally in Dimondale, a suburb of Lansing, where he began a strategic appeal to African-American voters before a largely white audience. “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” he asked.

The real estate mogul then stepped up his attempt to lure black voters by visiting a predominately African-American church in Detroit on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and granting a television interview to the church’s pastor.

Eleven days later, Trump briefly visited Flint to tour the city’s water treatment plant and visit another black church, where a pastor chided him for using her church to rail against Clinton’s past support for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised and impressed at the amount of attention and time he’s spent here,” said Hills, who is a top political adviser to Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Trump’s five visits since late July already top the amount of campaigning Mitt Romney and John McCain did in Michigan in 2012 and 2008, respectively, as the GOP presidential nominees.

Romney, the son of a former Michigan governor and native of Oakland County, made a three-city swing through Michigan in late August 2012 — and never came back. McCain pulled out of Michigan a month before the November 2008 election, canceling a planned rally in Plymouth.

Trump supporters believe this year’s Republican nominee has a message about jobs, trade and the economy that has positioned him to be more competitive in Michigan than McCain and Romney were.

“If I was betting woman, he’s going to be here a few more times,” Epstein said.

Dillon said he “suspects” Clinton may be back to Michigan in the near future, but he had no details of a specific time frame.

“They know in order to win the presidency, they have to win Michigan,” Dillon said.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood