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When Laura Cox took the reins of the Michigan Republican Party four months ago, she knew she’d have to hit the ground running.

And the state party chairwoman has her work cut out for her.

Cox is leading the effort to recapture the enthusiasm among Republicans that helped turn Michigan red in 2016. She also must soothe fractures within the party that have deepened since Donald Trump became president.

Now that Trump made it official Tuesday that he’s in the race, Cox says the top of the ticket is pivotal to the success — or failure — of other candidates down the ballot.

“We are putting in a solid ground game so that we’ll be successful in 2020,” she says.

A Glengariff Group poll from last month found that Trump is struggling in Michigan, trailing five of the leading Democratic candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders led the president by 12 percentage points. And fewer than 36 percent of Michigan voters say they’d cast their vote for Trump.

Cox is aware of these numbers, but she says it’s still early, and until one Democratic candidate emerges from the herd, it’s hard to predict what kind of race it will be.

Regardless, Cox says Michigan will play an essential role in the presidential race — and specifically for Trump. Michigan’s 16 electoral college votes helped seal the deal for the president in 2016.  

“Michigan is definitely ground zero for the campaign,” says Cox.

That means a regional field staff is being put together, and the campaign will be focused on talking to donors and investors early on.

While the presidential race is a top concern, Cox is also focused on recruiting candidates for a plethora of other races, from Congress to the Legislature to the state Supreme Court.

With John James throwing in his name again for U.S. Senate, Cox expects the Detroit businessman and veteran to garner excitement among voters. The 38-year-old political newcomer came closer than anyone expected to unseating Sen. Debbie Stabenow last November, and he may have a stronger shot at beating Sen. Gary Peters, who has struggled with name recognition among voters.

And this time around, James is a known entity and has earned wide support among the grassroots in Michigan and with big donors around the country.

“John James has his work cut out for him, but we think he’s the man for the job," Cox says.

Flipping the 8th and 11th congressional districts back to Republican control is a priority as well. She’s actively recruiting individuals for these roles and says she met with one likely candidate for the 11th last week.  

When asked if more women would be on the ballot this time around, Cox was reluctant to say. Democratic women swept the ballot in Michigan and around the country in 2018.

The GOP has to do a better job recruiting a more diverse field of candidates if it wants to earn back the support of suburban women and other voters who feel ostracized by Trump. Cox is aware of this and says she is spending time with statewide groups that help women launch campaigns and offer support along the way.

“I am a woman. I am the leader of the party,” she says. “I absolutely encourage women to run for office.”

ijacques@detroitnews.com 

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