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Taylor — White House counselor Kellyanne Conway touted Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James here in Downriver Sunday night as incumbent Debbie Stabenow and other Michigan Democrats rallied with union groups in Detroit and Warren.

The battle for blue-collar workers in Metro Detroit unfolded two days before a mid-term election that could function as a referendum on Republican President Donald Trump, who traversed similar ground en route to the White House two years ago.

"I know that many of you have tread water and suffered economically over the years, but those days are over," Conway said in a rally at the Top Gun shooting range, touting tax cuts and a falling unemployment rate. "I'm saying things are looking better."

After eights years of total Republican rule in Lansing and two years of GOP control in Washington, D.C., Democrats are optimistic voters are ready for change and confident union workers will support their candidates after some defected to Trump in 2016.

"They see what's happened, they see how their rights have been eroded, so they're engaged like never before," gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer said after rallying at a Detroit union hall. "But the most exciting thing is, we've traveled in every part of the state, and people from different walks of life who aren't traditionally Democrats are engaged, and I'm excited about that."

Conway rarely mentioned other Michigan Republicans during her Taylor speech, making it clear she was there to assist James. It was a make-up event  after she was forced to cancel a Thursday night stop in Sterling Heights because of a plane malfunction.

James would be a “reliable” vote on issues like military funding, tax cuts and free enterprise, said Conway, who managed President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign before joining him in the White House.

He’s “incredibly charismatic,” she added, urging voters to support the Farmington Hills businessman and military veteran in his bid to unseat Stabenow.  “You’ve got to convert that palpable excitement into political engagement.”

Stabenow said earlier Thursday she did not know what to make of the late visit by Conway or the embrace by James.

"I find it an interesting choice," Stabenow said. "He's reinforcing, over and over again, that he's with Donald Trump 2,000 percent. I don't think that's what we in Michigan need. What we need is someone who's with Michigan 2,000 percent."

Conway, who noted that she was appearing at the campaign event in her personal capacity and not as a White House aide, is the latest Trump surrogate to stump for James as the administration seeks to defend majorities in both the House and Senate.

Eric Trump and Lara Trump both campaigned for James last month, and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani joined him Saturday in Holland. Vice President Mike Pence has visited the state several times, including stops last Monday in Oakland County and Grand Rapids.

The president last visited Michigan in late April and is not expected before Tuesday’s election.

“If you think your vote doesn’t matter, that a slim majority doesn’t matter in the U.S. Senate, then you didn’t live through the Brett Kavanaugh hearings,” Conway said, referencing a combative confirmation process for the newest Supreme Court justice who was accused of sexual harassment.

Stabenow has touted her vote against Kavanaugh's confirmation because of his record, not just the assault allegations, but Conway argued she was “part of a cabal that was so unfair to a decent man." She also touted tax cuts the Lansing Democrat opposed.

Speaking in Detroit, Stabenow told a union crowd that issues like the prevailing wage are on this fall's ballot. Michigan’s Republican-led state Legislature earlier this year repealed the law, which guaranteed union-rate wages and benefits on government construction projects.

“If it rains Tuesday, get an umbrella,” Stabenow said. “Prevailing wage is worth an umbrella. If it’s cold Tuesday, get a coat. It’s Michigan, we can do this.”

Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to do so since 1988. James and other candidates noted the margin, urging voters to cast ballots on Tuesday.

“We live in a nation that many have died to preserve for us, to protect for us,” said James, who prompted chants of “USA” after noting a World War II veteran in the crowd. “We have to go vote because it is our sacred duty, and our responsibility. We have an obligation, not an option, to have our voices be heard.”

Whitmer, who has campaigned on a pledge to "fix the damn roads" and is crisscrossing the state in a bus emblazoned with the aggressive rallying cry, reprised her slogan with a twist by urging Democrats to "get out the damn vote" on Tuesday. 

“We’ve got 77 stops in these last seven days, and we’re just trying to make sure people understand that who the governor is matters from the minute you turn on the tap to brush your teeth, the schools your kids go to and the roads you’re traveling,” she told The Detroit News after the rally.

CLOSE

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful describes her campaign two days out from Nov. 6 election. Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Schuette, the current attorney general, has consistently trailed in public opinion polls of the race. But he noted pundits got it wrong two years when they predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton would defeat Trump.

“A funny thing happened on the way to the White House, and two days from now, we’re going to win it all right here in Michigan,” Schuette said. “We can’t go backward. We’re going to make sure we go forward for more jobs, more people and bigger paychecks here in Michigan.”

Speaking on the floor of a shooting range typically used for archery practice, Schuette called himself a proud member of the National Rifle Association.

“I was your 2nd Amendment attorney general,” he said. “I will be your 2nd Amendment governor.”

CLOSE

Down in the polls, Republican gubernatorial hopeful predicts a narrow victory. Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Democrats rallied with hundreds of union members and local Democrats at the  IBEW Local 58 union hall, a zero-net-energy building powered by solar and geothermal energy. They dined on free hot dog lunches and danced the cha-cha slide before Whitmer and other candidates took the stage.

Stabenow said "who we are" is  also on the ballot. She and other Democrats framed the election as a referendum on Republican President Donald Trump.

“This is the time that we get to vote out hate, and the way we do it is by electing people like us into places where we make decisions right now, to push back,” said U.S. House candidate Rashida Tlaib, Detroit Democrat who is favored to win election in the 13th Congressional District.

 “I cannot wait to kick some Trump ass when I get to Congress,” said Tlaib, a former state representative, activist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Turnout in Detroit and other liberal areas could help decide Tuesday’s election. Democrats typically struggle to turn out voters in mid-term elections but have been enthused by unusually strong absentee ballot activity.

As of Friday, more than 1.16 million voters had requested absentee ballots, a 53 percent increase at the same point in 2014. Clerks had reported more than 819,000 ballot returns as of Friday, also a 53 percent increase over 2014 but still slightly below the pace of the 2016 presidential election.

Returns were up 44 percent in Democratic-dominated Wayne County.

“We’re seeing presidential-level turnout in early voting this year,” said Garlin Gilchrist, Whitmer’s running mate and the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “You know why? Because we already know we’re going to make history on Tuesday.”

Taylor, where Conway rallied with Republicans, is the most populous community in the Downriver area south of Detroit. The city is represented by a Democrat in the state House, but Trump performed well in the larger region in 2016. While mid-term elections typically do not favor the party that controls the White House, Republicans urged supporters to create a “red wall” to combat any “blue wave” for Democrats.

“These races are going to be close,” said attorney general candidate Tom Leonard. “And we need places like downriver, we need Macomb County, we need northern Michigan the places that delivered this state for the first time in nearly 30 years for our president in 2016. I have no doubt that you will all deliver again, but we don’t only need you there.”

joosting@detroitnews.com

(517) 371-3662

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