GOP leaders welcome Trump’s improved Michigan prospects

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican leaders said Thursday they are welcoming Donald Trump’s improved prospects of winning Michigan after months of turmoil surrounding the New York businessman.

Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, left, was joined by Trump’s former primary rival Ted Cruz at a Portage rally on Thursday as former President Bill Clinton, right, stumped for wife Hillary Clinton at Eastern Market in Detroit. Read more on page 7A

The enthusiasm surge came as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz made his first national campaign appearances Thursday for Trump with GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence in Iowa and West Michigan, where the Texas Republican won key swaths while finishing second in the state’s March 8 primary.

Democrats are showing signs of anxiousness as Hillary Clinton heads to Detroit Friday for a rally at Eastern Market — the closest to Election Day a Democratic presidential candidate has spent defending Michigan since 2004.

“I think undoubtedly Michigan is in play when you see the amount of attention Michigan is receiving from candidates and surrogates,” said Amanda VanEssen Wirth, chairwoman of the Ottawa County Republican Party. “This is the best opportunity that we’ve have in a long time (to win Michigan).”

Clinton’s late visit to the vote-rich Democratic stronghold of Detroit follows the ground work her husband, former President Bill Clinton, did Wednesday and Thursday in an effort to spur participation among African-American voters.

“It’s a turnout race,” Bill Clinton said Thursday morning at the Germack Coffee Roasting Co.

After Clinton departed, Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey dropped into Detroit to help motivate African-American residents to go to the polls.

“This is a swing state that is actually going to determine whether Hillary Clinton has an easy pathway to 270 (electoral votes) or a more circuitous route,” Booker told The Detroit News. “It is such an important foundation for her victory.”

Democrats began their final weekend voter turnout efforts on Thursday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton headlined an afternoon rally at the Detroit headquarters of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 25, a public-sector union.

He said Detroiters need to organize because they have benefited from the sacrifices of earlier civil rights activists and the movement hangs in the balance.

“You have all of that and can’t organize anything?” Sharpton said. “We need to be up earlier and work later. …This is about the direction of the country.”

Former President Bill Clinton greets people outside the Germack Coffee Roasting Co. in Eastern Market.

Is FBI probe affecting race?

In the 13th Congressional District, which covers large parts of Detroit’s west side, paid canvassers began weekend door-knocking a day early to ensure voters know where to cast ballots and offer rides to the polls if they need.

“The party wanted us to start tomorrow, but we started today,” said Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th District’s Democratic committee. “Because of the rhetoric, because of the type of campaign Donald Trump has run, we want to sound the alarm that this election is one of the most important elections of our lifetime.”

GOP leaders say the week-old revelation of a renewed FBI probe of emails that may be linked to Clinton’s private email server while secretary of state and Trump’s new-found ability to stay on message have sparked optimism among grassroots Republicans that the White House could be within reach.

“There’s a huge undercurrent. Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be coming to Detroit on Friday herself unless she was deeply, deeply worried,” said Jeff Sakwa, co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party. “At the end of the day, (Trump’s) not under FBI investigation — again.”

Booker acknowledged the FBI probe may affect some voters but won’t change the campaign’s overall dynamics.

“I don’t know what practical effect that’s going to have,” he said. “It has changed the national conversation a bit. ... The reality is if enough people who are supporting Secretary Clinton would only vote, then she would have this election victory secured.”

Kinloch downplayed the significance of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s appearances in the city during the election’s final full week.

“Why not have her come into Michigan and other states that Donald Trump has been trying to find some benefit from the FBI director’s announcement?” he said. “It doesn’t mean that having her come here — having Bill Clinton come here — that we’re going to lose the state.”

Battle of experience

Clinton’s TV ads airing in Michigan and Democratic arguments on the campaign trail portray Trump as a bombastic, erratic and trigger-happy billionaire who can’t be trusted.

They also are trying to reinforce Clinton’s career in public service and the historical significance of electing the first female president.

“I can’t think of anyone historically who has more experience than she has,” said Frank Lynn, chairman of the Kent County Democratic Party. “What has Donald Trump done? Reality TV? That’s no qualification.”

Trump’s team is emphasizing the FBI probe, questioning how the Clinton’s family foundation is tied to their political influence and trying to motivate a segment of voters who may privately support the New York real estate mogul.

“There’s a lot of people in the closet,” said Sakwa, a prominent Oakland County real estate developer.

As the ad war is waged, both campaigns are deploying surrogates across the state.

In the critical bellwether of Kalamazoo County, Cruz and Pence highlighted the potential for the next president to nominate multiple U.S. Supreme Court justices.

“You better think long and hard about that,” Pence told an estimated crowd of more than 1,000. “Elect Hillary Clinton and you better get used to more unelected judges using unaccountable power to take unconstitutional actions.”

Star-studded surrogates

After holding out for months, Cruz threw his support behind Trump in late September — a move seen as crucial to getting evangelical votes for Trump.

“If Republicans can stay together and keep the pedal to the metal, I think we have our best chance of flipping this state to red in several cycles,” said John Inhulsen, chairman of the Kent County Republican Party who campaigned Wednesday with Donald Trump Jr.

On Thursday afternoon in Detroit, Booker and the Rev. Jesse Jackson mingled with patrons of Kuzzo’s, a restaurant on the Livernois Avenue of Fashion. Jackson attended a Wednesday night gathering with Bill Clinton and city religious and political leaders.

“I have seen a lot of enthusiasm in my trips here, from college campuses to meeting with African-American groups,” Booker said. “But we have to execute toward Election Night.”

On Friday, Trump is sending son Eric on a trip down the I-75 corridor, with five stops planned from Saginaw to Taylor.

Saginaw County has been safe territory for Democrats, with their presidential candidates posting double-digit margins of victory in three of the last four elections.

Amy Carl, chair of the Saginaw County Republican Party, said Trump’s message railing against free trade agreements and the erosion of manufacturing jobs has generated the most excitement since the 2000 election.

“We have a lot of people that come in that say, ‘I’m a lifelong Democrat, I want to join the party and I’m going to vote straight Republican,’ ” Carl said.

In 2000, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush lost Saginaw County to then-Vice President Al Gore by 11 percentage points.

“Since we lost so many jobs in the last 10 years, I think that really resonates that he’s going to bring jobs,” Carl said. “People want to be hopeful.”

Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Staff Writers Holly Fournier, Jonathan Oosting and Karen Bouffard contributed.