Michigan GOP plans huge door-knocking effort to re-elect Trump amid pandemic

Republican activists gather for a MAGA meetup on Wednesday in Portage. Experts say on-the-ground canvassing could be critical for GOP prospects in Michigan, where the Trump campaign has halted television ad spending.(Courtesy photo)

LANSING — Michigan Republicans say they've assembled an "unprecedented" ground game for the November election and have a not-so-secret weapon in their battle to re-elect President Donald Trump: in-person campaigning.

As Democrats turn to virtual rallies and phone calls amid the COVID-19 pandemic, masked-up Republicans resumed door-knocking in June, have hosted “MAGA meetups” across the state and will welcome Vice President Mike Pence to Traverse City on Friday.

Experts say the ground cover could be critical for GOP prospects in Michigan, where the Trump campaign has halted television ad spending and gave the state little air time in this week’s Republican National Convention.

"Knocking on doors is the most potent effort that you can make as a campaign because people remember it," said Steve Mitchell, a veteran GOP pollster who told Bridge that recent surveys he’s done show many Michigan voters don’t mind canvassers coming to their doors despite the coronavirus, particularly those in more rural areas outside of Metro Detroit.

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"If you don't want to answer the door because you're concerned about COVID, you just don't answer the door,” he said. “You still recognize the fact somebody was there and left a brochure." 

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, making him the first Republican to carry the state since 1988. But he faces strong headwinds in November: Michigan Democrats dominated the 2018 midterm election that functioned as a referendum on Trump, and presidential nominee Joe Biden is leading in every statewide poll. 

Trump Victory Michigan, a joint effort between the president's re-election campaign, the National Republican Committee and the state GOP, transitioned to a fully digital operation in March as the coronavirus surged in Michigan but is now back on the ground, said spokesperson Chris Gustafson. 

While he declined to say how many doors they've knocked, Gustafson called it "the largest and most advanced campaign in the history of the Great Lakes State." 

"With an army of over 43,000 volunteers and staff covering all 83 counties, we've made nearly 5 million voter contacts and we're not slowing down as we work tirelessly to re-elect President Trump and Republicans up and down the ballot," he said.

The Michigan Democratic Party is "not yet comfortable” knocking on doors “or asking our teams to be out” given COVID-19, Chair Lavora Barnes told Bridge last week. 

Instead, Democrats are focusing on telephone calls, text messages and virtual events to energize and attract voters. Vice presidential hopeful Kamala Harris on Wednesday remotely joined a Black outreach roundtable in Detroit, her first solo event since becoming the first African-American and Indian-American woman to secure a major party nomination. 

"We'd love to be able to get out and do some canvassing, but it doesn't look like the public health crisis is going to allow us to do that," Barnes said. 

"What we are hearing from voters is that they appreciate our respect for the public health situation as it stands and appreciate that we're taking all the precautions we can to keep the voters safe, keep the staff safe and keep everyone safe."

Michigan Republicans are doing their best to keep voters safe too, even as they resume ground operations, said spokesperson Tony Zammit. The party recommends volunteers wear masks and gloves and take two steps back after knocking on a door, he said. 

“It's getting that in-person contact that's so important during an election.”

Michigan gets short shrift at GOP convention

Michigan got only passing mentions at this week’s Republican National Convention, but Zammit argued that Pence’s pending visit shows the state is still a priority for the Trump campaign. 

"Especially right now during COVID, you're going to see strategies change sometimes temporarily,” Zammit said. “But the Trump campaign and the Michigan Republican Party have made an unprecedented commitment this year to winning the state for President Trump.”

The Republican convention cast Trump as a tough-on-crime president with a softer human side. 

As protesters marched against racism and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, speakers praised Trump for building an economy that was benefiting Black voters — at least until the coronavirus pandemic struck. 

And while the president has faced criticism for downplaying the public health threat in public statements, supporters praised Trump for limiting travel from China in February and working to speed up the regulatory process for COVID treatment drugs. 

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, a Northville resident who led the Michigan GOP during Trump's 2016 win, mentioned the state in a Monday night speech, calling herself a “mom from Michigan with two wonderful kids in public school who happens to be only the second woman in 164 years to run the Republican Party."

U.S. Senate candidate John James was also briefly featured in a pre-recorded segment that aired before most television networks began their prime-time coverage. 

But Democrats paid more attention to Michigan in their own national convention last week, giving Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a prominent speaking slot. She used it to slam Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic while touting Biden’s economic turnaround chops because of his vice-presidential role in the 2009 auto industry bailout. 

Trump has feuded with Whitmer over pandemic policy and encouraged activists to protest her public safety orders. While he did not mention Whitmer or Michigan, Trump on Monday again blamed governors for the uneven coronavirus response.

“Many of the governors were totally ill-prepared," the president said in a speech to open the RNC convention, which he was also set to headline Thursday night. "Nobody wants to say that, but it’s supposed to work that way: federalist. We did a great job.”

Speaking in a Democratic press call on Tuesday morning, Whitmer called the first night of the Republican convention "grim and spiteful and fear-inducing."

"We know the way out of this crisis is to get the virus under control," she said.

‘Trump can win’

Michigan Republicans told Bridge they're eager to talk about the president's record of cutting taxes and scrapping regulations to energize an economy that had been doing well prior to the pandemic. 

But COVID-19, which has so far killed 6,424 people in Michigan as of Wednesday morning, may drown out other election issues, Mitchell said, as Democrats argue Trump's failure to slow the virus cost lives but Republicans contend the president is best suited to lead the recovery.

While Biden is on the ballot, "it's really a race about Trump," Mitchell said. "The sides are extremely polarized."

That polarization has been on display this summer as Democrats voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against racial injustice. Trump and his allies argue violent demonstrations – including June skirmishes in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids – are indicative of the type of "chaos" that would ensue under a Biden administration. 

Voters are "looking at these cities that were allowed to be looted in the name of George Floyd, and it's reached a level of ridiculousness that people are unable to comprehend," said Linda Lee Tarver of Lansing, an advisory board member with Black Voices for Trump.  

"The bottom line is leadership matters," added Tarver, who was in Washington, D.C., this week as the Republican convention unfolded there.

Zammit said Republicans are not worried about voter polls showing Biden with a consistent lead in Michigan, noting Trump also trailed in the polls here four years ago before his win.

"Michigan is a state that has historically been decided late," he said. "And so when we get to Election Day, President Trump's going to be ahead here and win the state."

Biden is a favorite in Michigan, but if Republicans "can get out the vote — and they've got the ground game to do it — Trump can win," Mitchell said. 

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 08/27/2020 - 3:17pm

I just can't believe how people can support a career criminal, grifter and conman for our nation's highest office. Him and his administration are the most corrupt administration in our country's history. After his trial and imprisonment, the country will find out how truly evil he is.

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 12:22pm

I don't think you even need this campaign of door knockers. All you hear everywhere is how we need to reelect trump. I watch or heard highlights from both conventions. There is no comparison. The Republican one was about safety for all, that you can still work hard and achieve and that all of us matter not just certain people.

Biden/Harris 2020
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 10:51am

If that is the Republican message, why is our country falling apart under Trump? If we fall for his BS again, when will he get his bearings and learn the job, in his second term? I just think he's incompetent and untrustworthy. That said, if you are better off today, vote for him.

Our established family business has been losing 20% every year since Trump was elected. If Trump wins, we will probably have to close shop because 20% over five years equals 100%, leaving us with zero. Thankfully over the years we have saved a lot, but I honestly don't know what our children and grandchildren will do.

So we plan to vote for Biden. He provides hope. We were doing okay under Obama/Biden and each year since the 2008 recession was always better. Things started going down dramatically, every year since 2016. People need to understand that the economy is not the same as the stock market.

Ask your friends how they are doing financially today, how their businesses are doing. The downturn preceded covid; it's been a downward trend since Trump was elected. His showmanship presidency has constantly disrupted government and trade making it impossible for businesses to predict and plan. All my conservative friends who are honest admit that Trump has been bad for their businesses. They support him in hopes of eternal tax cuts, but I would gladly pay taxes if I could make a profit. If you can't make a profit, what good is a tax cut? It's like you are on life support. The goal of business is to thrive and make a profit, not to just avoid paying taxes that are needed live in a civilized society.

Are you better off today than you were four years ago? Before you answer that, think about your state when the government cheese, stimulus checks, PPP, etc., is gone. These are nothing more than bribes for your votes. Left or right, wake up America! It's the economy, stupid!

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 12:37pm

Who would answer the door in a pandemic? If I do, I'll spray them with Lysol before they say a word.

No thanks
Fri, 08/28/2020 - 12:40pm

This is the party that desecrated our taxpayer-owned property with political functions all this week. Thousands packed outside the White House without masks spreading their germs. Now they're spreading the virus to our homes?

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 1:39pm

I am a taxpayer and approve their doing so. It is the People's House after all and I am pretty sure that everyone there pays a pretty hefty tax bill each year. As for as the Republicans spreading germs into your home, simply do not answer the door. God bless our great country and her people!!! Trump 4 more years!!!

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 10:18pm

Tessa, I agree. I enjoyed seeing our monuments and national parks highlighted in our process of choosing the leader of the free world. I enjoyed watching this year's RNC more than I've enjoyed watching past RNC/DNC conventions ever. And this year's DNC was dark and depressing!!

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 10:54am


4 years later
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:05am

Trump looks like a deer in the headlights, only with a smirk on his face.

Just sayin'
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:03am

You didn't mention the lack social distancing and masks. I don't think Democrats or Republicans should use public property for political promotion.

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 2:46pm

I'm really not concerned by people not wearing masks. Do you really believe that a piece of t-shirt or bandana will protect you from a microscopic germ? Only medical grade masks would work.

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 1:35pm

Trump 2020! So proud of our great President!

Maryanne C
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:01am

I like Trump. I just worry about what will happen my social security and medicare when he cuts the payroll tax. I'm turning 70 this month and those programs really make a difference in my life.

Proud of Trump too
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 3:04pm

I am getting ready to stop reading Bridge. Obviously, the majority of the readers do not share my politics. Don't you people see all the things Trump did that he said he was going to do? What would have happened if he didn't have to fight every day against the lies. And there were tons of lies. People don't like his personality - I get that. You have to look at what he can accomplish for the country (and has) and see that he really cares about the USA and its people. So many people believe CNN and those stations, but they do not report the truth. Fox is biased towards Trump somewhat, but they say if something is wrong. The people who hate Trump REALLY hate him. It is amazing to me. What thin skin.

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 7:07pm

Proud of Trump Too, I think I'll follow you. I stopped monetary support of Bridge a month ago because I was seeing less objectivity in their reporting. I was hopeful that this would be true journalism and just report facts and let the reader determine what they would do with the data. Unfortunately, I'm not seeing that.

Joe in Grand Ledge
Fri, 08/28/2020 - 2:36pm

A Republican canvasser knocked on my door and did not wear a mask, gloves, or step back in concern for anyone's safety. This particular canvasser also happened to be a state senator who has tested positive for Covid-19. He was campaigning for candidate for state representative Gina Johnsen, who compared Governor Whitmer's safety measures to Japanese being in internment camps during World War II. I say all that to say that I do not trust the Republican Party's judgement on anything pandemic related.

Fri, 08/28/2020 - 4:46pm

I think we got this. There are so many silent voters who have had enough of the lawlessness that the democrats support. They didn't learn in 2016 and they acted even worse this time around.

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:09am

This is Trump's America. Pssst he's in charge. You and he need to take responsibility. Do you support the 17 assault-weapon-carrying vigilante who is doing Trump's job? Trump is worthless, a demagogue who poses with a Bible, all hat, no horse.

Thing is
Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:27am

A lot of Americans are really worried that our country is looking more and more like the Philippines, with Duerte's authoritarian rule. Police are not supposed to be prosecutors, judges, and executioners. Meanwhile Trump is pardoning convicted criminals.

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 5:54am

I wish Bridge would do an in-depth story about all the poor people in Michigan who got burned paying Steve Bannon for the wall Trump said Mexico would pay for.

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:21am

Marko, Gazelda, Tessa, Theresa, Todd, did you send Steve Bannon money for the Trump wall?

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 2:42pm

Nope, but I've given to President Donald Trump's reelection campaign.

Sat, 08/29/2020 - 10:11pm

As an independent voter I watched both conventions. I'm not sure how Whitmer got confused by her own parties convention, but it was the dark and depressing one. Everything that is wrong with America. Made me depressed watching it. The saddest part is that the DNC actually wants us to vote a 47 year career politician who has done nothing in those years and now has dementia as President. On the other side I watched four nights at some of our country's most beautiful public places highlighting areas of the American spirit. Instead of career politicians, though there were some, we heard from people who could have been our neighbors. The ones I was most touched by was a Cuban refugee, the widow of a slain retired cop in St Louis, the parents of a young medical worker slain by Isis, and a paralyzed 25 year old running for Congress. Trump may not have been my first choice in 2016, but President Donald Trump has earned my respect and vote in 2020. I seriously believe he is our only choice.

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 11:13am

Anyone who has ever read a single post of yours, knows you are not independent. You promote very extreme rightwing ideas, routinely spout Republican talking points. Why pretend?

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 6:59pm

I'm independent in my thinking and my voting. My current sheriff is Democrat and I've voted for him every year. I have very distinctive beliefs that definitely are conservative. That said I've voted for Democrats for President in the past too. Unfortunately for the DNC they haven't had a candidate worth voting for in years and now they seem hell bent being socialists.