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Michigan Republicans put faith in Trump to stop Oakland County slide

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Hills — A large pink bus with "Women for Trump" painted on the side rolled Friday into Oakland County, where Republicans are hoping President Donald Trump can help them stem a string of political losses.

In 2014, Republican then-Gov. Rick Snyder won Oakland County — Michigan's second largest county — by 12 percentage points on his way to re-election. Four years later, the GOP's 2018 gubernatorial nominee, Bill Schuette, lost it by 17 points, a nearly 30-point swing, helping put Democrat Gretchen Whitmer into office.

Supporters of President Donald Trump pose for a photograph on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020 in front of the Women for Trump bus in Bloomfield Hills.

Asked what will be different this fall in Trump's race against former Vice President Joe Biden from 2018, Meshawn Maddock, an Oakland County resident and a member of the Women for Trump Advisory Board, said having Trump's name on the ballot brings a different level of energy.

"The president adds something to the ticket that is intangible," said Maddock, standing near the Women for Trump bus on Friday. "Nobody can even quite put it into words what Donald Trump has done.

"There's the Republican Party, and there's Trump's party. This is Trump's party."

In 2018, Republicans' struggles in Oakland County helped Democrats flip two U.S. House seats that include portions of the county and four seats in the state Legislature in the county.

"Republicans have to do better in Oakland County or they lose statewide," said Richard Czuba, a pollster and owner of the Glengariff Group. "It’s just that simple."

But it could be a difficult task to accomplish. In recent years, Republicans have had problems with suburban women and college-educated voters, and Oakland County is "primed" with both of them, Czuba said.

On his way to winning Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, Trump lost Oakland County to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 8 points. But he was about 50,000 votes closer to Clinton than Schuette was to Whitmer in 2018.

About 50 people gathered Friday to greet the Women for Trump bus outside the Michigan Republican Party's office in Bloomfield Hills. The event was one of the rare in-person campaign gatherings that have occurred in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laura Cox

Many of those gathered Friday didn't wear masks. Among those riding on the bus was Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, who wore a mask for much of the event.

Republicans have contacted more than 4 million voters in Michigan, Cox said. The GOP focus is on Trump's efforts to defend the police, make communities safer and boost the economy, she said.

"Every time that we've been given a hurdle, Republicans have stepped up to the plate and jumped the hurdle," Cox said when asked about the GOP's strategy this fall in Oakland County.

 The difference between 2018 and 2020 will be Trump's name at the top of the ticket and "promises made, promises kept," said Linda Lee Tarver, a Michigan GOP activist and a member-at-large of the National Federation of Republican Women.

"The message is getting out that this president is delivering," Tarver said. "He's delivering on the promises he made and he's not playing politics with people's lives."

But Vaughn Derderian, chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party, said running on Trump's record in the county, where Republicans have struggled under the president, is a "fundamental misreading of the electorate."

"What gives them any sense that will work now?" Derderian asked.

The county's Democratic candidates will be talking about people's health, safety, jobs and clean water on the campaign trail, the chairman said.

About 200 Oakland County Democrats participated in a virtual party meeting on Tuesday night. Among the attendees was Whitmer, who emphasized the importance of the county in November.

Democrats need to flip four state House seats to win back the majority from Republicans. Among their top targets are three GOP-held seats in Oakland County.

"The key to the White House goes through Michigan," Whitmer said. "And the key to Michigan is Oakland County."