MONROE, Mich. — Democrats have yet to solve what went wrong for them in Michigan in 2016, a party official in a key swing county says, raising alarm that President Trump is well-positioned to win the state again next year.
Michigan was the biggest surprise of the presidential election. Mr. Trump used the same Rust Belt appeal that he did in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to win the state by fewer than 11,000 votes. It didn’t help Democrats that so many of their voters stayed home.
Mary Etta Kreklau, treasurer of the Monroe County Democratic Party, said she sees the same forces at work in her area, which swung 23 percentage points from backing President Obama in 2012 to backing Mr. Trump.
“They should be very alarmed, but I am not sure they are going to do anything about it,” she told The Washington Times.
Ms. Kreklau said the southeastern Michigan county, wedged between Detroit and the Ohio border, “made the switch with Trump, and it has only gotten worse.”
The worries at the county level belie the Democratic National Committee’s confidence in what it described as an aggressive effort to win back Michigan after Mr. Trump put it in the Republican column for the first time since 1988.
In a coordinated effort, the DNC and the Michigan Democratic Party have put 45 organizers on the ground this summer, deployed a full-time director of black outreach and continued the statewide grassroots campaigns that they say contributed to Democratic wins in the 2018 midterm elections.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez told The Times that he had been huddling with party officials and local activists to ensure Democrats are prepared to take full advantage of sweeping changes to the state’s voting laws known as Prop 3, or “Promote the Vote.” He said the referendum could help the party reclaim Michigan.
“I spoke as recently as today with a number of key stakeholders across Michigan, and we’re working together with them to do a very aggressive voter engagement and education process so that people know the new rights that they have,” Mr. Perez said. “Republicans oppose this because they don’t want more people to vote. They do make it harder for people to vote.”
The referendum passed with the support of 67% of voters last year and enshrined in the state constitution same-day voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, straight-ticket voting and automatic voter registration.
The changes will get their first test in the presidential election next year. Democrats say easier access to the ballot box always works to their benefit.
“When you are talking 10,000 votes, everything and anything matters. Making voting simpler matters,” said Mo Elleithee, executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service and a former DNC spokesman. “This is one of those things where Democrats believe the right thing morally also happens to be the right thing politically.”
Nina Turner, the national co-chairwoman of Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign, said the changes could give Democrats an edge — unless they nominate a political stiff.
“You do always want to expand [voting access], but you still have to get them excited about what they are coming out to vote for,” Ms. Turner said. “So it is both of those things: not putting up hurdles and barriers for people to be able to vote, but also give them something to want to come out for.”
In 2012, Mr. Obama easily carried Michigan over Mitt Romney despite the Republican nominee’s longtime ties to the state as the son of a former American Motors president and former state governor. The consensus opinion is that 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton did not inspire the same excitement as Mr. Obama and did not focus enough attention on the state.
In Monroe County, the Clinton camp left party officials in the dark until they sent in a staffer just two months before the election.
Ms. Kreklau said voters were disenchanted with her candidacy and stayed home on Election Day.
“The south side of Monroe, which is primarily black and Hispanic, did not vote,” she said. “We had people working the south side of town who are very prominent in that neighborhood, and people just didn’t come out and vote.”
It was a similar story in Detroit, which Mrs. Clinton won but with nearly 80,000 fewer votes than Mr. Obama received in 2012.
The far-left agendas of the 2020 Democratic candidates only worsen the party’s problems in the county, Ms. Kreklau said. Their support of unrestricted abortion rights turns off the county’s large Catholic community, and their campaign messages of decriminalization of illegal immigration and government-paid health care benefits for people in the country illegally drive away more conservative Democratic voters.
“It doesn’t help when you are hearing constantly we have to keep those socialists out of here, they are all communists, and that is the message being sent … that the Democrats are all socialists, they want to take your insurance away,” she said.
Indeed, voters who backed Mr. Obama say it is mind-boggling to see Democratic presidential candidates sprinting to the left to support causes that clash with their moral or religious beliefs.
“I am a naturalized citizen, and I don’t see why people who come into this country should just come in here and think they should get everything without working for it,” said Monroe resident Chris Wright, 66, a Navy veteran.
“I voted for Obama because he was pro-American, [saying,] ‘Let’s get everybody back to work,’ and so is Trump,” he said.
Trump voter Mary Alice VanSlambrouck, 62, said she thinks Mr. Trump is “not a good person” but she will vote for him again because the Democrats are not offering a palatable alternative.
“I really detest that we have a person of his personality in the White House,” she said. “But as far as the Democrats go right now, I am just sick and tired of the hate and the bashing, and I don’t see anybody stepping up to do what I think is right.”
Democrats have hopes that voters in the majority-black city Detroit will turn out in force against Mr. Trump, whom many see as a straight-up racist.
At the same time, though, it is easy to find voters who have lost all faith in the system’s ability to deliver positive change since Mr. Obama drove them to the polls.
A black Detroit police officer who asked to be identified only as “Lance” said he sat out the 2016 election and would not vote in 2020.
“We know it doesn’t really matter. Even with Trump in office, nothing changed,” said Lance, 38, who voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 but never in a presidential election since.
He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Trump won Michigan in 2020, and he bristled at the Democratic Party’s pressure to get to the polls next year.
“You’re looking for more voters to come out and vote for who? We don’t even know the candidates,” he said.
Linda Bostic, a former table game supervisor at MGM Grand Detroit, said she is telling friends and family members that “we can’t screw this up.”
“We have to get out to vote,” said Ms. Bostic, who is black. “We should care more about ourselves to allow this to still happen.”
Asked whether she is confident that the black community will turn out in greater numbers, she shrugged. “I really don’t know,” she said.
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