First presidential campaign ad hitting Michigan airwaves

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
A Gillibrand 2020 ad set to air in Michigan

Lansing — Presidential campaign advertisement season has arrived early in Michigan and two other states, where Democrat Kristen Gillibrand is set to air her first television spot criticizing Republican President Donald Trump. 

The U.S. senator from New York will air cable television and digital ads in Detroit, Lansing and Flint as she swings through the cities Friday on a “Trump Broken Promises Tour,” her campaign announced Tuesday. They come two-and-a-half weeks before the July 30-31 debates in Detroit.

The 30-second spot, titled “I promise,” features clips of various Trump pledges during his 2016 campaign. It includes footage of a policy speech to the Detroit Economic Club that touches on a familiar theme for Michigan motorists: crumbling roads and bridges.

“We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports that our country deserves,” Trump said in Detroit nearly three years ago.

While Trump earlier this year agreed to work with Democrats on a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, he backed off that plan in May amid continued political infighting and has not yet boosted road or bridge funding. 

Instead, the president told Democrats he will not work with them on infrastructure unless or until Congress ratifies the United States-Mexico-Canada trade pact brokered by his administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The cable ad is set to air in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan during her two-day Midwest tour, targeting “Obama-Trump voters” who helped elect the president in 2016. 

"As president, I will take on the fights that no one else will," Gillibrand says in the spot.

Details about the Michigan ad buy, including the total dollar amount, are unknown and the campaign did not immediately respond to a request for additional information. 

Gillibrand is one of 24 Democrats seeking the presidential nomination and has struggled to gain traction in the crowded field.

To beat Trump, the Democratic nominee will have to excite the base and earn back the trust of voters "who still feel left behind in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan,” Gillibrand Communications Director Meredith Kelly said in a statement.

“Sen. Gillibrand can do both, by going to Trump’s backyard and calling out his lies and his failures on key kitchen table issues, while also highlighting her plans to take on the big fights facing families, and actually get results.”

Trump, who held a massive March rally in Grand Rapids, has been touting his accomplishments as he seeks re-election next fall. His campaign maintains a “promises kept” website documenting the president’s actions in his first term.

But Gillibrand's ad also questions Trump's promise of a manufacturing jobs boom and appears to show footage of the decaying Fisher Body plant in Detroit, which was abandoned long before the president took office.

Through May, Michigan had added roughly 15,800 manufacturing jobs under Trump, but growth has slowed in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The state added 148,600 manufacturing jobs over former President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, which included a prolonged rebound from the Great Recession.

The auto industry has sent mixed messages since Trump's election. Fiat-Chrysler is in the process of building the first new auto assembly plant Detroit has seen in nearly three decades, but General Motors Co. has idled its Detroit-Hamtramck and Warren Transmission plants.

Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network said Tuesday he is not aware of any other candidates airing ads so far in Michigan, calling the Gillibrand buy “very early.”

While running a short burst of ads could be a way for Gillibrand to “make a splash” in the Democratic primary without spending a huge amount of money, “I think it’s going to be a very expensive presidential election, including the Democratic primary and general election,” Mauger predicted.

He noted massive second-quarter fundraising hauls self-reported by campaigns, including $54 million for the Trump campaign, $24.8 million for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana, $21.5 million by former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware, $19 million for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and $18 million for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Gillibrand has not yet released her second-quarter fundraising totals and is not required to file a disclosure report until Monday. She raised $3 million in the first quarter of 2019, trailing many of the top-tier Democrats.

“These candidates are going to have a lot of money to spend, and they can only spend it on certain things” like ads, staff and field operations, Mauger said. “It would not be surprising to see a ton of TV ads in Michigan in 2020.”

Gillibrand, who also campaigned in Michigan in March, is scheduled to start her Friday around 10:15 a.m. in Bloomfield Hills, where she’ll attend a town hall on gun violence prevention at Birmingham Unitarian Church.  

She’s expected in Flint around 2 p.m. at a yet-to-be disclosed location and plans to meet with Mayor Karen Weaver, Pastor Chris Martin and local residents.

Gillibrand will cap her Michigan visit in Lansing with a 6:40 p.m. meet and greet at the Lansing Brewing Company.