Washington Township — A presidential campaign season defined by a pandemic and diverging ideas for a divided nation neared its final chapter in Michigan over the weekend as President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden pushed for votes in the battleground state.
On Sunday, thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Macomb County to greet the Republican president at a rally amid snow flurries, gusting winds and temperatures in the 30s. The crowd chanted “four more years” about the president and “lock her up” about Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Trump said Biden “thinks he’s a tough guy” and focused on the economy, contending his Democratic opponent’s plans would “eviscerate” the auto industry while exaggerating his own record.
“We’ve been doing things like nobody’s ever done, cut your taxes, cut your regulations and ensure that more products are proudly stamped with those beautiful words, that beautiful phrase, ‘Made in the USA,'” Trump told the crowd.
A day earlier, Biden and former President Barack Obama held drive-in events in Flint and Detroit, where they said Trump had bungled the COVID-19 response and would be the first president in about 90 years to lose jobs over his term in office. Motown singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder performed at the rally on Belle Isle as some of the former vice president’s supporters got out of their cars and danced near the stage.
Biden labeled Trump “weak” and said it’s time for him “to pack his bags and go home.”
“We’ve got to leave no doubt about who we are and what this country stands for,” Obama told a crowd of hundreds gathered for a drive-in rally on Belle Isle.
Trump won the state by 10,704 votes four years ago, his closest margin of victory nationally. But Michigan Democrats are becoming increasingly hopeful that a victory could be signed, sealed and delivered later this week.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, one of the few Democrats who voiced pessimism ahead of the November 2016 election, predicted a win on Sunday, cautioning that the race will be closer than people think.
“My gut says we’re going to win,” Dingell said. “And that’s the first time I’ve officially said that to anybody. I think the momentum is on our side. I don’t believe the polls. I don’t believe anybody’s 10 points up. I don’t.
“I think four years ago, people we’re just tired of everything. They just wanted to shake things up,” she added. “… Well, they’re tired of what they’re seeing now.”
Biden led Trump by nearly 8 percentage points in a Detroit News poll of 600 likely Michigan voters, who were surveyed Oct. 23-25. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Trump’s supporters have repeatedly contended the polls are wrong, noting many experts predicted Democrat Hillary Clinton to win four years ago. Trump ended up sweeping the battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where much of this year’s campaigning has focused, on his way to the White House.
The president will return to Michigan on Monday, the eve of the election, for stops in Traverse City and Grand Rapids, where he concluded his 2016 campaign.
The Biden campaign is countering with actress Kerry Washington and actor and former pro football player Nnamdi Asomugha, who will make Monday stops in Inkster, Detroit and Taylor.
Trump: It’s the economy
In frigid winds and dustings of snow on Sunday, Trump touted his record on Michigan’s economy and promised to deliver for automakers and other manufacturers during a rally in one of the state’s most pivotal counties.
Throughout his roughly one-hour speech, Trump reminded the crowd of the jobs that he argued they stand to lose if Biden is elected.
The Republican president also warned against extreme environmental policies that would fail to deliver the energy needed to power Michigan plants and manufacturers. In the last presidential debate, Biden said he wanted to “transition” away from the oil industry.
“China doesn’t do it. Russia doesn’t do it. India doesn’t do it,” Trump said. “We will be at such a competitive disadvantage, we might as well just fold up the deck.”
Biden has said he wants to create 1 million auto jobs by promoting electric vehicle research and development. Michigan added 33,000 auto manufacturing jobs over the final four years of Obama’s administration, in which Biden served as vice president, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The state had lost about 2,400 auto manufacturing and parts jobs from January 2017 through February 2020 during Trump’s administration — before the pandemic hit Michigan, according to the BLS. The losses have been greater as the virus has ravaged the economy.
On Saturday in Detroit, Obama noted that manufacturing jobs in the state increased by about 15% during his final term in office. As of February, manufacturing jobs in Michigan had increased 1% during Trump’s tenure.
“That was before he could blame the pandemic,” Obama said. “We handed him the longest streak of job growth in American history. But the economic damage that he’s inflicted by botching the pandemic response means he’ll be the first president since Herbert Hoover to actually lose jobs.”
Trump and Congress replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement in January with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which requires automakers to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement is an increase from 62.5% under the NAFTA rules.
On Sunday, Trump interrupted his speech in Washington Township a few times to note the wind in his face and the cold.
“This is a crazy place, but we love Michigan,” he said, adding at another point that “I’m not a diva.”
A protester who had entered the press section and held a sign saying Trump is obese was escorted from the premises early in Trump’s address.
Macomb County, where Trump appeared Sunday, is Michigan’s third largest county and voted for Trump by 12 percentage points in 2016. Obama won it by 4 points in 2012.
Dems: Poor virus response
Biden and Obama urged Michigan voters to turn out for Tuesday’s election “to reclaim what’s best” about the country during two fiery Saturday rallies in the state.
As the sun set on the evening of Halloween, Biden and Obama stressed in Detroit the stakes of the vote. They said Trump had bungled the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed the virus to spread without working to control it.
“For God’s sake, please vote,” Biden said at one point.
The crowd on Belle Isle — some of whom left their cars and gathered near the stage without social distancing — heard speeches by Whitmer, U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and a performance by Wonder, who is a Michigan native.
Obama drew a contrast between the GOP and his former running mate. Republicans have no plan on health care and Trump cares about “feeding his ego,” he said, while Biden “cares about keeping you safe.” If Trump focused on responding to COVID-19, the nation wouldn’t be experiencing new record highs in cases of the virus, Obama said.
Biden said he would institute a national strategy on testing for the virus, mask-wearing and contact tracing. The first step toward beating COVID-19 is “is beating Donald Trump,” the Delaware Democrat contended.
Trump has countered that Biden will “lock down” the nation’s economy to try to combat COVID-19 — a charge the Democrat denies.
“Under Biden’s lockdown, you will be living in a prison state,” Trump told the Washington Township crowd.
His son, Donald Trump Jr., echoed those arguments during a stop in Genesee County on Saturday.
“Shutting down the country is sure as hell not gonna help it. It’s gonna destroy it,” he said. “It’s gonna take what’s left of the economy that Donald Trump created and run it into the ground.”
The Biden rallies in Flint and Detroit Saturday came as the state ended a week that brought a record number of new case confirmations: 20,154. Hospitalizations tied to the virus are also trending upward as health officials have labeled the numbers “incredibly concerning.”
‘Restarting the system’
In front of a billboard that said, “Motor City for Joe & Kamala,” referring to Biden’s running mate, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Obama’s microphone cut out at one point Saturday night.
“They’re restarting the system,” someone eventually yelled from the crowd.
“That’s what we’re going to do in three days,” Obama responded, drawing a roar of laughter.
At Flint’s Northwestern High School on Saturday afternoon, Obama extolled his former vice president as “my buddy” before a mostly African American audience and said Biden would restore decency and competence to the White House.
“But this Tuesday, everything is on the line,” Obama said in a 25-minute speech in Flint before introducing Biden. “Our jobs are on the line. Our health care is on the line. Whether or not we get this pandemic under control is on the line.”
The Democrat mocked the Republican president for claiming without evidence at his Friday rally in Waterford Township that doctors are inflating COVID-19 deaths because they can profit off the fatalities.
During his own remarks, Biden followed by questioning how Trump could “have the gall” to make such claims.
“What in the hell is wrong with this man?” the former vice president asked before apologizing about his language. “…It’s perverted. He may believe it because he doesn’t do anything other than for money.
“People of this nation have suffered and have sacrificed for nine months, none more so than the doctors and front-line health care workers, and this president is questioning their character, their integrity, their commitment to their fellow Americans? It’s more than offensive. It’s a disgrace.”
In 2016, Clinton got about 102,000 fewer votes combined out of Genesee County, where Flint is located, and Wayne County, where Detroit is located, than Obama did four years earlier. The two counties have the largest percentages of Black residents in Michigan.
Michiganians traveled to Flint from other parts of the state for the Obama-Biden rally.
“It’s critical and we need decency back in the White House,” said Diane Zuckschwerdt, 50, of Owosso.
Biden, Zuckschwerdt said, “can bring people together” because he has “decency and honesty.”
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Harris, also campaigned in Michigan on Sunday. He told canvassers in Oakland County that “we’re a nation in pain” and must “vote in massive numbers” to flip leadership in the White House.
“This is the eye of the storm. We’ve got to win Michigan,” he added. “We’re going to win Michigan, we’re going to win around the country. We’re going to show the world that we are better than this.”
Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed.