Battleground Michigan: Grassroots Movements See Rust Belt State as Key to 2020

A supporter of the US president holds a baby wearing a "Trump 2020" bib as she attends a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on March 28, 2019. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

Grassroots political energy is surging on the left and the right in Michigan as both sides gear up to engage in one of the most important battles in the 2020 presidential election: the fight for this Rust Belt state’s 16 electoral college votes.

With a little less than 17 months until the November 2020 election, Democrats and Republicans alike recognize that it will be extraordinarily difficult for their party to take the White House without winning in Michigan.

Michigan was one of three states — along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — President Trump won by the narrowest of margins in 2016 that propelled him to a relatively easy 306 to 232 election day electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite losing the national popular vote by two points.

Trump won those three states by a combined margin of less than 100,000 votes. Had Hillary Clinton won those states, instead of Donald Trump, and their combined 46 electoral college votes (20 from Pennsylvania, ten from Wisconsin, and 16 from Michigan) gone to Clinton instead of Trump, Clinton would have won the presidency with 278 electoral college votes on election day to Trump’s 260.

Evidence of activist energy among conservatives around the state abounds.

On Friday, several hundred Trump supporters held a “Squash Amash” rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, outside the offices of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) calling on Amash to resign. Amash is the only Republican to call for the impeachment of Donald Trump and voted in favor of contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General William Barr.

Amash already faces primary challenges from several candidates, including State Rep. Jim Lower, as The Detroit News reported from the rally:

“It’s a national race at this point,” said state Rep. James Lower of Greenville, one of two Republicans who have already announced primary campaigns against Amash. Other potential challengers are considering runs.

Trump supporters described the president as a man under siege and argued that Amash opened a new front in a years-long battle when he became the first Republican to call for an impeachment inquiry following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“What they’ve done to him in these couple years already is just terrible,” said Don Levault of Clarksville, an Amway factory worker who lives in Amash’s district. “It’s unreal. In my view, if you’re a Republican, you should back your president, and this guy ain’t, so he’s got to go.”

Grassroots conservatives in the state are also buoyed by the recent announcement from John James that he will seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), which is up in 2020.

James, the West Point graduate and businessman, had an extremely strong showing in the 2018 Senate race he lost to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), 52 percent to 45 percent.

“President Trump formerly lauded James as a ‘rising star’ and endorsed his last bid for Senate,” as Breitbart News reported this month:

President Trump formerly lauded James as a “rising star” and endorsed his last bid for Senate.

In a 2018 interview with Breitbart News, James praised President Trump for his ability to be “authentic.”

“Our president made a vow to the American people, and mostly to people who felt like the American dream had almost been exclusively reserved for the coastal elites,” James said.

“Our president came and talked about putting America first. Now, some have perverted that for their own ends by saying that means ‘America alone,’ but it doesn’t,” James added in the 2018 interview. “What it does mean is our president is going to keep his promises.”

Pro-life James criticized his 2018 rival Stabenow for her pro-choice stance and accused her of committing “black genocide.”

Among several endorsements in his run for Senate last year, James received support from the pro-life groups, including the National Right to Life Committee and Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List).

Grassroots conservatives are also energized by the hyperpolitical activism of #RedforEd teachers, who are supporting big increases public education spending despite declining student performance in public schools, along with dramatically changed social studies standards, as Breitbart News reported on Thursday.

Michigan Democrats point to the successful campaign Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ran in 2018 as an example of the kind of progressive energy they expect to see in 2020.

“Whitmer’s commanding 10-point win over Trump-endorsed Republican gubernatorial rival Bill Schuette re-energized Democrats left shell-shocked after Trump’s 2016 triumph. She performed well in counties typically carried by Democrats, but also won or made gains in Republican areas, providing a starting point to rebuild the party’s power ahead of the next presidential election,” MLive.com reported in April.

If recent polling is to be believed, the grassroots conservatives energy is more than counterbalanced by similar energy on the progressive side.

An EPIC/MRA Poll of 600 likely Michigan voters in conducted this month gave Biden an 11 point lead (52 percent to 41 percent) over Trump in the state, which is in line with the current Real Clear Politics Average of Polls, which gives Biden a 10.3 point lead over Trump.

But polls of Michigan have been notoriously off the mark in recent years.

An EPIC/MRA Poll released on the eve of the November 2016 election, for instance, showed Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump in Michigan by four points, 42 percent to 38 percent. Trump ended up winning the state by about 10,700 votes.

The Real Clear Politics Average of Polls performed even more poorly, showing Clinton with a 10.5 point lead (48 percent to 37.5 percent) on April 27, 2016.

A poll released by Firehouse Strategies on Tuesday shows a much closer race in Michigan, with Biden leading Trump by only three points, 46 percent to 43 percent.

Despite recent polls, the Cook Political Report still rates Michigan as a “toss-up” in the 2020 presidential election.

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