Trump flipped 12 counties to win Michigan

Chad Livengood, Michael Gerstein, and Joel Kurth

President-elect Donald Trump’s narrow victory in Michigan came after he waged a yearlong public battle with one of the state’s iconic automakers to energize white working-class voters.

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands during an election night rally, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York.

Trump’s criticism of Ford Motor Co.’s expansion of auto production in Mexico was a distinct change in messaging from four years ago, when Republican Mitt Romney spoke in philosophical opposition to political intervention in the economy.

Trump wins most counties in Michigan - An interactive map

“With Mitt, they saw kind of a professor and what they saw with Trump was a fighter,” said former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Holland Republican who co-chaired Trump’s Michigan campaign.

Hoekstra credits Trump’s confrontation with Ford and other manufacturers as a way to put his thumb on the pulse of working-class voters in blue-collar and rural areas of the Michigan, where he says residents feel “alienated” from the country’s corporate and political ruling class.

The New York real estate mogul won Michigan by 13,107 votes, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office.

He won big in Macomb County, running up larger margins in rural areas and flipping 12 counties that voted for President Barack Obama four years ago, unofficial state results show. Voter turnout in Macomb County climbed 4 percent compared with 2012.

Trump’s upset over Democrat Hillary Clinton was aided by higher vote totals in 76 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

“Donald Trump over-performed in rural areas across the state as well as blue-collar areas such as Macomb County and has fundamentally changed the map so Republicans can win statewide with a different coalition,” GOP strategist John Yob said Wednesday.

Yob said the socially conservative working-class voters previously known as “Reagan Democrats” should now be called “Trump Republicans.”

Trump won over white voters without a college education 61 percent to 31 percent for Clinton, according to exit polling conducted for The Detroit News and national television networks.

Half of all voters surveyed said trade agreements take away U.S. jobs — reinforcing Trump’s signature domestic policy issue. Trump won 47.6 percent of the statewide vote, while Clinton garnered 47.3 percent.

Trump supporters were attracted to the New York billionaire’s brash, anti-establishment rhetoric. He has vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., and institute new “ethics reforms” amid widespread dissatisfaction with perceived political elites.

Many Michigan voters did not appear to be dissuaded by his lewd comments toward women and bragging about using celebrity influence to grope women in 2005 audio that surfaced before the election concluded. Nor did many recoil from his comments about building a wall between Mexico and America or temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country to create better measures to screen terrorists.

“I’m so sick of the last eight years, I really am,” said Penny Nelson, 73, a Trump supporter who attended a Mike Pence rally in Traverse City the day before the election. “He’s blunt and honest. And it’s refreshing.”

Trump’s new coalition

The New York businessman became the first Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988 to carry the Great Lakes State. GOP political strategist Greg McNeilly called Trump’s victory “wildly unexpected.”

Twelve counties that voted for Obama in 2012 instead went for Trump Tuesday night. They included Bay, Eaton, Macomb, Monroe and Saginaw counties.

Trump far out-performed historical averages for Republicans in rural areas. The 70-year-old real estate developer received nearly 70 percent of the vote in Montmorency, Kalkaska and Osceola counties, for instance, more than 10 percentage points more than Republican and Michigan native Romney in 2012.

Participation was down in some traditional Democratic strongholds, such as Genesee County, where total votes fell 6 percent. The county that includes Flint went Democratic 54-44 percent, but the margin was smaller than victories for Democrat Obama in 2012 (64 percent) and 2008 (66 percent).

Clinton only won eight counties: Genesee, Ingham, Kalamazoo, Marquette, Muskegon, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne.

Trump also benefited from lower turnout in Wayne County and particularly Detroit, where Clinton received 47,840 fewer votes than Obama did in 2012.

Clinton won Wayne County, but not by the margins Obama ran up in 2012 and 2008. She got 78,884 fewer votes than Obama, while Trump won 14,449 more votes in the state’s largest county than Romney did.

Third parties play role

Third-party candidates also may have played a role in Trump’s victory. Some voters bucked the Republican and Democratic parties and cast protest votes for Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

About 57 percent of Michigan voters said they had an unfavorable view of Clinton, while 59 percent viewed Trump unfavorably, according to the exit poll.

Johnson won 172,711 votes or 3.6 percent, the largest percentage of votes captured by a third-party candidate since Ross Perot won 9 percent in 1996. Johnson’s total broke a 154,040-vote threshold needed for the Libertarian Party of Michigan to participate in the August 2018 primary.

Stein won 51,414 votes Tuesday, just over 1 percent of the statewide total, unofficial results show.

The nearly 4.8 million votes cast Tuesday in the presidential contest were up by 53,957 votes cast or 1.1 percent percent compared with four years ago. Tuesday’s election set a new record for the second highest turnout in state history behind the 5 million votes cast in Obama’s 2008 election as the nation’s first African-American president.

Bill Gelineau, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Michigan, fought the notion that Libertarians spoiled the election for Clinton. He said the Green Party’s Stein is more closely aligned with the political philosophy of progressive Democrats.

Many Johnson supporters may not have voted at all if the former New Mexico governor hadn’t been on the ballot, Gelineau said.

“We’re responsible for a third force and if we don’t take that opportunity seriously shame on us,” Gelineau said.

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Staff Writer Christine MacDonald contributed.