Dems, GOP Bank On Early, Sustained Push to Secure Victory In Battleground State of Michigan

January 7, 2020 by Dan McCue
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden visits a campaign field office, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020, in Waterloo, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Let’s face it, for all the attention paid the early caucus and primary states, no one seriously expects the voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina to have the final say on who is ultimately chosen to be the next president of the United States.

History has shown that distinction belongs to a handful of “swing” or “battleground” states, whose respective importance ebbs and flows depending on the dynamics of the election cycle.

The main attributes Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin share is that they can be incredibly fickle and the site of nail-bitingly close presidential contests.

Many of them have also seen significant demographic shifts in recent years, and have shown a willingness to “flip” their party allegiance based on the personal appeal of the parties’ nominees.

Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016 was the result of winning several of these key battleground states, including Michigan, which this year will hold both its Democratic and Republican primaries on March 10.

For those in need of a refresher on 2016: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., narrowly defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, besting her by just 1.42 percentage points, while Donald Trump clobbered a field that included Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primary.

The margin separating Trump from the next highest vote-getter, Cruz, was 11.87 percentage points.

Things tightened up in the general election in November, with Trump winning Michigan by the narrowest margin in the history of the state. After a recount, the Michigan Board of Canvassers certified Trump defeated Clinton by just 10,074 votes, a margin of 0.23 percentage points.

Just four years earlier, in 2012, President Barack Obama won Michigan by 9.5 percentage points, representing some 450,000 votes.

But Democratic fortunes in the state didn’t stay down for long. In 2018, incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow won re-election to a fourth term by 7 points, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won the governor’s race by 10 points, and the party flipped two congressional seats, with the election of Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens.

The current state of play in Michigan can best be described as fluid. Last summer, a Detroit News/Glengariff poll found less than 36 percent of registered voters would re-elect Trump, and a Morning Consult survey released around the same time found his net approval rating has decreased 23 points in the state since taking office.

A December poll by Firehouse Strategies/Optimus found that as the impeachment process heated up, Trump’s prospects against the current Democratic presidential field improved.

Not surprisingly, both the Democratic and Republican National Committees see Michigan as winnable and are taking it extremely seriously.

Democrats Seek to Reverse Decline in Turnout

“Michigan is a true battleground, and Democrats have already begun laying the groundwork and infrastructure for our eventual presidential nominee to win the state in 2020,” said David Bergstein, the party’s director of battleground state communications, during a briefing for reporters this fall.

Weeks earlier, the Democratic National Committee had completed its first round of hiring operatives to focus exclusively on states Trump narrowly won in 2016, including not just Michigan, but also Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Bergstein referred to the hires as the beginning of an “on-the-ground, tip-of-the-spear” effort to build stronger, more permanent political operations in states where it’s critical for the party nominee to get off to a fast start.

The Democrats also launched an eight-week student training program, Organizing Corps 2020, that will fast-track college students into full-time paid campaign jobs registering voters and educating them about significant changes to Michigan voting procedures mandated by a recent ballot referendum.

In 2018, voters approved Proposal 3, which added eight voting policies to the Michigan Constitution, including straight-ticket voting, automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration, and no-excuse absentee voting.

“The Michigan Democratic Party supported the 2018 ballot initiative and is thrilled voters now have more opportunities to make their voices heard,” Lavora Barnes, chair of the state Democratic Party told The Well News.

To ensure the new rules are followed, the Michigan Democratic Party has assigned a full-time voting rights director, “to ensure every voter knows their rights, we’re building a voter protection team that is dedicated to informing the public of the new law and combating voter suppression,” Barnes said.

In addition, the state party has been actively building what Barnes described as “a grassroots army” dedicated to beating President Trump and “electing Democrats up and down the ballot, in every corner of our state.”

“Between now and the primary, we’ll continue to staff up and build out an organizing infrastructure that can fight for every vote in communities throughout Michigan,” she said.

Democrats and allied independent organizations have also created a unified communications team to remind voters of expectations that have not been met during Trump’s first term, and to counter any positive publicity the president garners when he holds rallies and other events.

The Democrats in-state network includes 10 regional offices in places like Detroit, Flint, Lansing, Benton Harbor and Macomb County. The plan is to have more than 100 organizers working from 50 such offices by the time primary season gets fully underway.

On top of all this, the Michigan Democratic Party hired a full-time digital organizer and a full-time African American outreach director to engage communities of color.

The strategy underlying all this is two-fold. Primarily, the party wants to win back some of the white working-class voters who supported Democrats in the past, but voted for Trump in 2016. Secondly, it wants to do a better job of turning out African-American voters who stayed home the last time around.

To advance both objectives, the party is continuing two initiatives that proved effective in 2018 – Project 83 and the One Campaign for Michigan. Both focus on engaging voters in every county of the state.

To further the latter goal, the Democratic National Committee gave the state party a six-figure grant to fund community organizing efforts in African-American neighborhoods in Detroit and Flint, two Democratic strongholds where voter turnout lagged four years ago.

More than half of Organizing Corps organizers dispatched to the state are people of color, and their efforts have so far have focused largely on a three-county region where the majority of registered minority voters live.

Republicans Pushing Hard to Hold Key States

The Republicans have been no less busy. Both state GOP officials and members of the Trump 2020 campaign have said the president’s re-election effort began the moment he took office in January 2017.

The president’s re-election team ratcheted up its efforts last spring, when it carved the nation into nine regions, and appointed regional political directors to determine how best to motivate supporters in their jurisdictions and get them to the polls on Election Day.

The regions are telling. Michigan is grouped with Pennsylvania, neither of which had supported a Republican in three decades before Trump in 2016.

Wisconsin, which also hadn’t supported a Republican in decades — 32 years — is in a region that includes Ohio.

And Florida is a region unto itself.

Since the initial hires, the GOP has also brought on 50 regional communications staffers, more than double the size of Trump’s 2016 team.

In a joint statement released at the time of the initial hires, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said they were planning a voter-turnout operation and a communications team that will be “the largest ever undertaken by a presidential campaign.”

Kayleigh McEnany, the national press secretary for the Trump campaign, commented on the seriousness of the effort during a visit to Lansing, Mich., saying diligence and hard work will be necessary in 2020 because Democrats won’t underestimate the president’s chances of victory this time around.

As of November, the GOP has hosted 74 training sessions across Michigan, attended by more than 1,400 volunteers.

In a recent appearance on C-SPAN, Richard Burr, politics and government editor at the Detroit News, said Trump will likely campaign in Michigan focusing on taxes and immigration, and arguing that people are doing at least somewhat better today than they were four years ago.

Burr also noted that in 2016, Trump secured his victory by unexpectedly picking off one of Detroit’s three major metro counties — Macomb County — given that may not happen this time, the newspaper man said Trump needs to maintain his support in rural Michigan, particularly in the traditionally Republican western part of the states.

But that’s far from certain, Burr said.

“[Trump] faces more of an uphill climb this time because Democrats are much more energized to turn out their vote,” he said.

 “We’re very pleased with the progress we made in 2018,” Bergstein said. “But we are making investments in communities of color, we’re making sure everybody knows about Trump’s record of broken promises in 83 counties, we’re registering voters.”

The first test, of course, will be the primary on March 10.

On that Tuesday, Democrats will vie for 147 total delegates (125 pledged and 22 “super delegates”), which will be allocated proportionally among the candidates garnering at least 15% of the vote.

Republicans meanwhile will compete for 73 delegates, the threshold for receiving any is winning 20% of the vote. If any candidate garners more than 50% of the GOP vote, which currently seems likely for Trump, he will receive all of the state’s Republican delegates.

The general election is Nov. 3, 2020. On that date, 16 electoral votes will be up for grabs in Michigan, which is a winner-take-all state.

The 16 electors reflect the number of senators and representatives Michigan has in Congress.

Presidential candidates on the Michigan ballot submit a list of 16 qualified electors to the Secretary of State’s Office. The 16 electors whose candidate wins Michigan’s popular vote will participate in the Electoral College at the state capitol in December.

“Electors pledge to support the candidate they represent and may not vote otherwise,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in a written statement. “Voters can be assured that all 16 Michigan electoral votes automatically go to the presidential candidate winning the popular vote.”

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