Clinton on defense in Mich.; Trump goes for ‘Hail Mary’

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Presidential rivals Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will descend on Michigan in the final 48 hours of the 2016 election along with many of their top surrogates to barnstorm a state that could help decide who occupies the White House next year.

Donald Trump is ramping up his bid to become the first Republican in 28 years to carry Michigan with a rally Sunday evening at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights. Hillary Clinton will campaign Monday in Grand Rapids — the first time she’s ventured west of U.S.-23 in this election cycle — after she drew a crowd of 4,100 supporters Friday evening in Detroit.

Trump is ramping up his bid to become the first Republican in 28 years to carry Michigan with a rally Sunday evening at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights. Trump’s runningmate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is coming to Traverse City on Monday for his fourth rally in Michigan in five days.

Trump plans to finish campaign Monday in Grand Rapids

Clinton herself will return on Monday for a get out the vote rally in the Grand Rapids area — the first time she’s ventured west of U.S.-23 in this election cycle — after she drew a crowd of 4,100 supporters Friday evening in Detroit. The 4 p.m. rally is scheduled for the Grand Valley State University Fieldhouse, 10915 S. Campus Drive in Allendale. Doors open at 2 p.m.

Former President Bill Clinton is headed to Lansing for a mid-day rally Sunday to aid his wife’s bid to become the nation’s first female president.

On Monday morning, Air Force One will land in Michigan carrying President Barack Obama as he heads to Ann Arbor for a rally at the University of Michigan’s baseball stadium. Clinton daughter Chelsea Clinton will introduce the president.

“I think Barack Obama does not want his legacy to be that they turned over the White House to Donald Trump so they’re going to defend their blue wall and Michigan has got to be guarded,” Republican strategist Rick Tyler told The Detroit News on Saturday.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Saturday that the New York businessman is adding an 11 p.m. Monday rally in downtown Grand Rapids at DeVos Place in response to Clinton and the Democrats “scrambling to stop Trump’s momentum.”

But Trump still faces a narrow pathway to victory that requires winning a Democratic-leaning state like Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania, while also capturing the battleground states of New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida, according to Tyler and other political analysts.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nev.

“The Clinton campaign is clearly seeing a momentum shift in Michigan and the Upper Midwest and they’re matching him,” said Greg McNeilly, a Republican strategist from Grand Rapids. “They’re doing it from a defensive stronghold and Trump is doing it as a offense move and it’s clearly a Hail Mary play.”

Clinton’s decision to venture west to the Grand Rapids area is a “smart move on her part” because Trump has continued to under-perform in polling of voters in the GOP stronghold of west Michigan, McNeilly said.

“Trump should be coming back to west Michigan. I think Sterling Heights is a mistake for him,” McNeilly said Saturday night, about an hour before the Trump campaign announced the Monday night event in Grand Rapids. “I think that the biggest growth opportunity he has is west Michigan.”

The Clinton campaign sees an opportunity to exploit Trump’s weaknesses with Republicans and independents — particularly women — and convince undecided voters to break their way on Election Day.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a GOTV concert at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts November 5, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“I think there’s a lot of people in western Michigan … even people who may tend to be Republican, who don’t like the way Donald Trump treats women,” said Stephen Neuman, senior adviser to Clinton’s Michigan campaign.

Neuman said Trump’s controversial characterization of the economic well-being of African Americans living in inner cities, his feud with the Gold Star family of a fallen Muslim-American soldier and “offensive comments he’s made about Muslims and about veterans” can still be used against him in conservative west Michigan.

“I think that there’s a lot of opportunity to talk to independent voters and even some folks who might otherwise tend to vote Republican who just recognize that Donald Trump has neither the temperament nor the judgment to be the commander-in-chief and control the nuclear codes,” Neuman told The News.

Battling for electoral votes

Clinton finds herself in the position Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore both faced in 2004 and 2000, respectively, when they came back to Michigan the day before Election Day to defend the state against Republican George W. Bush.

Both Democrats won Michigan those years, but Gore narrowly lost Florida by 537 votes.

“Imagine if he’d gone to Tampa that Monday night. Or pick any place in Florida,” said Rusty Hills, who was chairman of the Michigan Republican Party in 2000. “Even though we didn’t win Michigan, I felt we did our job because we pulled (Gore) out of Florida.”

Hills, a top aide to Attorney General Bill Schuette, said every hour the Clintons and Obama spend in Michigan is an hour they’re not in Ohio, or Florida or North Carolina.

“She has a bigger stable of surrogates,” Hills said. “But I would argue he’s got more momentum and passion on his side. And at this point that counts for a lot.”

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of a University of Virginia political newsletter, said Trump’s strong performance in polling among non-college education whites may help him cut into the big margins Obama built up in Michigan in 2008 and 2012.

“My guess is that Clinton is still favored in Michigan but that the campaign sees the same tightening that public polls are picking up and that they are focusing on the state because it is an important part of their Electoral College puzzle,” Kondik said Saturday.

It takes 270 Electoral Votes to capture the presidency outright and Trump’s pathway to victory is narrow, Kondik said.

“Trump is casting about for paths to 270 and Michigan could be a part of it, in combination with Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina,” he said.

Frenzied final 48 hours ahead

The final two days of the presidential campaign in Michigan promise to be a whirlwind.

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Lansing on Sunday to campaign for his wife two days before Election Day. The 42nd president will rally union supporters at 1 p.m. Sunday at a United Auto Workers hall on Clare Street in Lansing.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois will help the Clinton campaign launch a neighborhood canvassing in Kalamazoo mid-day Sunday.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, will campaign for Trump across the Lower Peninsula on Sunday.

Palin plans to stop into local Republican campaign offices at 9 a.m. in Cheboygan, 11:30 a.m. in Alpena, 3 p.m. in Midland. She will end her day with a 6:30 p.m. event at The Town Pump Tavern on West Montcalm Street in Detroit, according to the Trump campaign.

Trump is holding a rally at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Freedom Hill Amphitheater in Sterling Heights.

Obama’s rally in Ann Arbor is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday morning at Ray L. Fisher Stadium on State Street. Free tickets can be reserved on the Clinton campaign website.

President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Charlotte, N.C., Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. Obama will be in Ann Arbor Monday in a last-minute push to defend Michigan against Republican Donald Trump, according to a source with knowledge of their campaign travel plans.

“We think Ann Arbor is a great opportunity for the president to talk to Democratic voters, to independent voters, to college students and others and we’re thrilled he’s able to come,” Neuman said.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, will hold a 1 p.m. rally Monday in Traverse City, according to the Trump campaign. Pence will then head to Erie, Pa. for a late afternoon rally before joining Trump for an 8 p.m. rally in Manchester, New Hampshire and then going to Grand Rapids for the late night rally.

Pence has spent the past three days in Michigan, holding rallies designed to fire up the Republican base in Portage, Lansing and Holland on Saturday morning.

Ivanka and Tiffany Trump will attend an 11 a.m. Monday community forum in Hudsonville. Their older brother, Donald Trump Jr., will stop into Rubs BBQ Pub on West Adams Avenue in Detroit at 2:30 p.m. Monday and then hold a campaign event for his father at 4 p.m. at the Ukrainian Cultural Center on Ryan Road in Warren.

Hillary Clinton's rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday at GVSU's main campus in Allendale and free tickets can be reserved on her campaign website.

Hillary and Bill Clinton’s trips to Grand Rapids and Lansing mark the first time either have campaigned in central or west Michigan in the general election.

Most of their efforts so far have centered in vote-rich southeast Michigan and Flint, where the former president visited two predominately African American churches Sunday morning. Bill Clinton was recently in Saginaw.

Other surrogates from both sides may show up in the Great Lakes State in the final 48 hours of the campaign, Hills said.

“It’s all hands on deck and that only happens when the state’s up for grabs,” Hills said. “They’re not coming here to enjoy the fall colors.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.