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Jill Biden looks to grow Democratic support in West Michigan

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Jill Biden, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden,  made a campaign push Tuesday in West Michigan, capping a week of high-profile visits in a state that could be pivotal in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

On Tuesday morning, Jill Biden toured the Kids' Food Basket facility in Grand Rapids, an organization that seeks to combat childhood hunger. In the afternoon, she spoke with military family members during a small backyard gathering at the home of former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in Battle Creek.

Schwarz, a U.S. Navy veteran, served as a Republican in the Michigan Legislature and U.S. House but has endorsed the former vice president, a Democrat, for president. If her husband is elected, Jill Biden, whose father also served in the Navy, said she would work to ensure military families "have what you need."

Jill Biden makes a campaign stop at Kids' Food Basket in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

"Joe and I believe that as a nation, we have many, many obligations," she added. "But we only have one true sacred obligation: To properly prepare our troops when we send them into harm’s way and to care for them and their families, both when they are deployed and when they return home."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined Biden at the Battle Creek stop, where the former Second Lady criticized President Donald Trump's administration for not fully funding the Michigan National Guard activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government has decided to provide only 75% of the funding through the end of the year, Whitmer's office has said.

"That's unconscionable," Biden said. She said if her husband is elected, he would fully fund the Guard.

In Grand Rapids, Jill Biden was joined by Democratic U.S. House candidate Hillary Scholten, an attorney who's running for the 3rd District seat against Republican businessman Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids.

At one point during the event, Jason Lundberg, the farm manager at Kids' Food Basket, handed Biden a radish that was grown at the facility by Grand Rapids high school students.

"Anybody else want a radish?" she asked before sticking the item in the pocket of her jacket.

Kent County, where she was in the morning, went for Trump in 2016 but supported  Whitmer in the 2018 gubernatorial race. Calhoun County, where Biden was in this afternoon, supported Trump in 2016 and narrowly backed Whitmer's GOP opponent, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, in 2018.

"We're feeling really encouraged. Our polling shows that we're in dead heat with our Republican opponent," Scholten said Tuesday. "It's exciting. People are ready for change."

Over the last week, Trump visited Freeland in Saginaw County, Joe Biden appeared in Warren and Detroit, and Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, participated in a rally in Harrison Township.

Jill Biden, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, left, participates in a discussion focused on military families during a campaign event in Battle Creek on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, his smallest margin of victory nationally. He became the first Republican presidential nominee to carry the state since 1988. But Democrats are hoping to take the state back this fall.

Joe Biden led the Republican incumbent 47% to 42% in a poll of 600 likely Michigan voters released by The Detroit News and WDIV last week. The poll had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.

West Michigan is an area of emphasis for both campaigns as Democrats hope to continue gains in the region and flip the 3rd Congressional District seat that's been a GOP stronghold.

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, L-Cascade Township, holds the seat but decided against running for re-election. He has feuded with Trump and parted ways with the Republican Party.

Democrats haven't made a strong push to win the district since it was redrawn for the 2012 election. Amash, who was first elected in 2010, was re-elected in 2016 by a 22-point margin. In 2018 — with Democrats still not spending money on the district — Amash won by 11 points. 

"We’re taking no vote for granted," Jill Biden said Tuesday morning in response to a question from a reporter.

Joe Biden formally endorsed Scholten, the Democratic candidate in the 3rd, on Monday.

cmauger@detroitnews.com