Trump Confronts Next Test As Michigan Voters Go To The Polls


Donald Trump touted his campaign’s ability to drive Republican voter turnout on Tuesday as the presidential race moved to Michigan in the industrial Midwest, the next test of his appeal to disaffected voters and whether efforts to stop him are working.

Republicans also are holding primaries in Mississippi and Idaho and caucuses in Hawaii. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, will seek to expand her delegate lead in primaries in Mississippi and Michigan, where Bernie Sanders is trying to slow her march to the nomination.

“Four years ago, they were dying, the Republicans, and now it’s been energized,” Trump said Tuesday on MSNBC, according to a transcript. But party leaders haven’t thanked Trump for spurring voter turnout, he added. “Instead of being given credit, they take ads against me.”

Trump suffered a split decision Saturday, winning in Louisiana and Kentucky but losing caucuses in Kansas and Maine to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump’s victories also were narrower than polling had indicated, suggesting that attacks on his crude language and ill-defined policies from 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and others could be having an impact.

Romney recorded a phone message to voters urging them not to vote for Trump, which Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign is sending to Michigan primary voters, the Associated Press reported. Romney has offered his help to Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich as well, an unidentified spokesman told Politico.

Trump has enjoyed double-digit leads in Michigan, thanks to his appeal to white, working-class voters. The contest there will show whether Cruz, Kasich or Rubio can claim any momentum as an alternative heading into key contests on March 15.

The results for Kasich will be closely watched because he has staked his presidential campaign on winning his home state, and Michigan’s industrial base and working-class roots bear similarities to the Buckeye State.

“We’re growing here. You can feel the momentum here in Michigan,” Kasich said in an interview on MSNBC on Tuesday. “The intensity of the supporters, the people who are for me, is really pretty remarkable.”

A new poll backs Kasich’s optimism.

“Trump appears positioned for a win in Michigan, but the race may be tightening in the final hours,” Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement. “Trump’s support may be dropping, while Kasich’s star could be rising.”

Campaigning Monday in Michigan, Kasich said he thinks it’s likely that no candidate will amass the 1,237 delegates needed for the nomination before the party’s convention in Cleveland in July. He also said he doesn’t think whoever has the lead in delegates should necessarily prevail there.

“To say, ‘Well, you know, I have more than you, therefore I should get it?’ Go out and earn it,” Kasich told reporters after a town-hall meeting in Monroe, Michigan. “Don’t be whining about how it’s going to work. Go get what you need to be the legitimate winner.”

Kasich is betting that a strong finish in Michigan, followed by a victory a week later in Ohio with its 66 delegates, will prevent Trump from getting the needed delegates and start a new phase of the campaign. Trump is seeking to prevail in Ohio and defeat Rubio in his home state of Florida on March 15 to claim the 99 delegates there.

Trump leads the delegate chase with 384, followed by Cruz with 300, Rubio at 151 and Kasich with 37, according to an Associated Press tally.

A RealClearPolitics average of polls in Michigan shows Trump leading with 37.3 percent, with Kasich in second at 25 percent and Cruz in third at 19.8 percent. Rubio, who had sought to separate himself as the establishment alternative to Trump, is last at 10 percent.

Kasich may have gotten a boost from his March 3 debate performance in Detroit, when he refused to engage in attacks on Trump by Rubio and Cruz, said David Dulio, chairman of the political science department at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. The Ohio governor also has devoted more time than any other candidate to Michigan, he said.

At his event Monday at Monroe County Community College, Kasich was asked about Romney’s criticisms of Trump and call for voters to back other candidates as a way to deny the real estate mogul the delegates he needs to win.

“Personal attacks against Donald Trump is not the way you win voters,” Kasich said. “You want to win a voter that likes Trump, you give them an answer that’s real.”

Without mentioning Cruz by name, Kasich singled out the Texas senator’s proposal to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and implement a 10 percent flat income tax. Kasich asked audience members to raise their hands if they think either will happen a year from now after the election, and no one did.

“I find that most of the things that I hear said, nobody believes will happen,” Kasich said. “They just want them to be said.”

Cruz, who canceled a Mississippi rally Monday after falling ill, held a smaller event in the state later in the day before jetting off to Michigan, where he didn’t arrive until 11 p.m.

In Mississippi, Cruz kept up the pressure on Trump and said he intends to consolidate support of Republicans opposed to the New York billionaire.

“In this campaign, it has become clear that a vote for Marco Rubio or a vote for John Kasich is a vote for Donald Trump because there’s only one campaign that has beaten Donald Trump, that can and will beat Donald Trump,” Cruz told reporters.

Hours later, Trump addressed more than 7,000 people at a school and football field nearby, with most fans watching his speech in the bleachers on a scoreboard or sitting on a football field. Trump promised to fix New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and to restore “Merry Christmas” to holiday displays. He said the same “establishment” that put President Barack Obama in office now is spending an unprecedented amount of money to deny him the Republican nomination.

“How can I be leading in Mississippi when I see so much negative stuff?” Trump asked. “And it’s all being put out by the Republican establishment.”

Trump appeals especially to the blue-collar voters in areas such as Macomb County north of Detroit, home of automotive plants and parts supplies and mostly white, union-member voters, said Stu Sandler, a Republican consultant from Ann Arbor who is not affiliated with any of the candidates. Those voters were the inspiration for the label “Reagan Democrats,” who supported Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Trump has held rallies in Macomb County and in Cadillac, emphasizing messages that resonate about the loss of jobs from trade deals and companies such as Ford building plants outside of the U.S., Sandler said.

“Donald Trump’s campaign has fixed like a laser on working-class voters, and I think it’s really paid off, and it’s brought an influx of new voters into the Republican primaries,” he said.

One measure of that impact could be the number of people who take a Republican ballot, Dulio said. Michigan has an open primary in which residents can vote in either party’s primary, and as of Monday, 307,877 people had requested a Republican absentee ballot compared with 235,583 Democratic requests, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.

“Like him or not, agree with him or not, he is bringing people who have not participated in politics in awhile — or ever — into the process,” Dulio said.

David Evans, 53, who works for General Motors, and his son, Travis, a 25 year-old college student and Air Force veteran, attended Kasich’s event in Monroe on Monday and both said Trump appealed to them because he’s a businessman and not a typical politician. But the father is considering Cruz and the son is backing Kasich because they are leery that Trump is “a wild-card,” as Travis Evans put it.

“I like Trump, but I’m not sure I trust him,” Dave Evans said.

While the Republican race is competitive, Michigan residents had been exposed to far more broadcast television advertising on the Democratic side through March 1, according to tracking data from Kantar Media’s CMAG.

Sanders had run 3,178 spots in markets covering the state, compared to 2,663 for Clinton. On the Republican side, Kasich and Cruz were the only two candidates to run broadcast television spots, and at levels much lower than the Democrats, data show.

Clinton enjoys a lead of more than 20 percentage points in an average of recent polls by RealClearPolitics, even as Sanders has tried to link her to manufacturing jobs lost to trade deals that she supported. The Vermont senator doesn’t seem to be getting any traction, said Susan Demas, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, a newsletter in Lansing.

“You would think that it would be a fertile issue in Michigan,” Demas said. “But it seems that Democrats are willing to give Clinton a pass on it.”

Clinton also appears to be connecting with black voters in Michigan the way she did in previous contests in the South. Demas said polling after the Iowa caucuses showed the former secretary was winning 82 percent of blacks in the state.

Clinton aggressively went after Sanders in a televised debate in Flint on Sunday for opposing the $700 billion bank bailout in the 2008 financial crisis, saying it had cleared the way for the $82 billion auto industry bailout key to Michigan workers.

According to an Associated Press tally, Clinton has a delegate lead over Sanders of 1,130 to 499, including superdelegates, elected officials and party leaders who are free to change their allegiances. It takes 2,383 delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

(C) 2016, Bloomberg · Mark Niquette