Michigan already a political battleground ahead of 2020 election
Ignoring Michigan before the 2016 presidential election has been touted as one of the Democrats' greatest failures during the race — a mistake capitalized on by Republicans en route to President Donald Trump's victory.
“There’s no denying that the road to a Democratic nomination and to the White House runs through Michigan,” Michigan Democratic Party communications director Paul Kanan said. “We know firsthand what can happen when Michigan isn’t a priority ... we will not allow that to happen again.”
Republicans will fight to keep the mitten for Trump despite Democratic successes in the 2018 midterm elections, said Tony Zammit, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of that energy (from the 2016 election) return,” he said.
Trump is scheduled to appear at a re-election campaign rally in Grand Rapids on Thursday, one of what will likely be "many to come," Zammit said.
The president campaigned hard in Michigan before his election — winning here by a slim margin of 10,704 votes — and has since maintained a presence. He made an appearance during his pre-inauguration “Thank You” tour and has made stops in Ypsilanti and Washington Township.
Grand Rapids will mark Trump’s first trip to the state since April 2018. He did not visit during the midterm elections despite endorsing several candidates.
In the year since his last visit, Michigan has become a bluer state on the federal level. Trump's net approval rating in the state has dropped 23 percentage points since his election according to Morning Consult, presenting new challenges to Trump's campaign and the Republican Party this time around.
“I think like any other year, new things arise that we’ll have to deal with,” Zammit said.
By the end of March, Michigan will have hosted two candidates and the incumbent president. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke visited different cities on March 18. With a little more than 19 months to Election Day 2020, it's clear candidates want to make an early impression on Michigan voters.
“With how important Michigan is to the nation … it makes sense that there’s a lot of heat,” first-year physiology masters student Hayen Stoub said. “I always have to bracket this as, 'We’re on a college campus, so this isn’t the real world.' There are a lot of things that are an exception to the rule on college campuses, so we have to keep that in mind.”
The Republican strategy is to continue building a solid base of support before the election. Zammit said prominent Republicans would be highly visible in Michigan during the campaign.
“I think we’re going to try to get out the positive accomplishments the president has done and build up a grassroots army that will get him re-elected in 2020,” Zammit said. “You’re going to see a combination of the President and other surrogates. The Michigan Republican Party and the Republican National Committee thinks that Michigan is a key state in this election."
Michigan is going to be a serious battleground state due to Michigan's sharply divided political communities, Stoub said.
“You have a large working class ... and that trends blue, but then you also have a big red trend in the Michigan Bible belt,” Stoub said. “My county, Berrien County, is a really hardcore red county. It’s a purple state, but not because there’s an even mix.”
Democrats are focused on adding to their successes in the midterms. The party is introducing a grassroots-style campaign called “Project 83” across the state, a message centered on reaching voters in all 83 Michigan counties.
“We saw in 2018 what we can do,” Kanan said. "We’re already building on the successful efforts we had last year."
Kanan said energizing Democratic voters is the way to avoid the failures of the last presidential election. “What happened in 2016 will not happen again," he said. "The infrastructure we put in place following that was to ensure that in Michigan races, Michigan campaigns are run by Michiganders, because we know our state.”
Kanan said Michigan's Democratic organizers are focusing on building support for the party as a whole rather than the individual presidential candidates. The party is offering each candidate some pre-planned resources during the campaign season.
“Even though we are absolutely thrilled to have all of these candidates coming to Michigan … we are not waiting for a nominee to get to work on what we see as the most important election in history,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. is the next candidate presently scheduled to visit Michigan following Trump. She will attend the MDP Women’s Caucus Luncheon in Detroit on May 18, according to Kanan.
Editor's note: This article was updated to correctly reflect that Klobuchar will attend at MDP Women’s Caucus Luncheon.