For both the Republican and Democratic parties in Michigan, the 2020 presidential election is looming large.
The parties’ members have elected new leadership this year and both have stated their main goal for the next two years is all about President Donald Trump.
Republicans at the party’s state convention in Lansing on Saturday said time and again that Michigan has to repeat its surprise performance in 2016, when voters gave Trump a 10,704-vote margin of victory out of 4,799,284 ballots cast. It was the first time Michigan had delivered a victory for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.
“When I look back at what helped us win in 2016, it was the passion of the grass roots, the unity bridges, the flash mobs,” said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel. “We’re going to need that and more to win in 2020. The president is going to win Michigan in 2020. He’s going to show up here we want to be here for him.”
Trump repeatedly came back to Michigan in 2016 in the days before the election, including his last stop of the campaign — a 1 a.m. rally in Grand Rapids on Election Day. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton wasn’t in Michigan as much, although she did appear in Detroit and Grand Rapids in the days leading up to the Nov. 8 election.
The Michigan loss, coupled with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, helped deliver what had been a reliably blue Midwest swath of votes to the Republican Party.
The opposite message comes from the Michigan Democratic Party’s new chairwoman Lavora Barnes, a longtime party activist from Ann Arbor who was the party’s operations director since 2015 and who was elected to the party’s top job last month.
“We’ve got to take down Donald Trump. What happened to us in 2016 is never going to happen again,” she said last week in an interview with the Free Press.
Democrats would rather concentrate on repeating their 2018 strategy that led to Democrats winning the big three statewide offices — Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State — gaining seats, but not the majorities in the state House of Representatives and Senate, re-electing U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and picking up two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, gaining a seat on the Michigan Supreme Court and sweeping nearly all of the education-related seats.
“We definitely made sure 2018 was a very Michigan-centric operation and we hired people locally to work their neighborhoods and we’re going to do that again with 2020,” Barnes said. “There will be a Michigan-based operation on the ground before a (presidential) nominee is selected and the national campaign can come join us.”
The 2016 election served as a heartbreaking lesson for Democrats, Barnes said, who added she almost would have rather gotten trounced than lose by such a small margin.
“To get that close is to know that you’ve messed up,” she said. “When we felt that something didn’t feel right, the analytics (from the Clinton campaign) told them that what we were feeling was wrong and they trusted their numbers.”
Republicans, who chose former state Rep. Laura Cox, R-Livonia, as their next chairwoman at the convention, acknowledged that they can’t risk a repeat of 2018, when the party lost the votes of many suburban women, leading to the loss of seats to Democrats, especially in southeast Michigan.
“We just took a shellacking, losing all three statewide seats,” said state Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake. “We have to change what we’re doing if we want to win in the next election cycle.”
Cox said that as a suburban woman, she’ll be the face and voice of the Republican Party, who can help lure voters back to the party.
“We want to make sure we re-elect our president and we make sure we expand our majority in the state House,” she said. “We’re going to have a great track record that President Trump has and when we talk to folks about how much he’s accomplished, that will bring the voters back.”
And Romney-McDaniel said that Republicans must hold those newly elected statewide Democrats accountable, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat.
“As I was driving here, I was noticing those roads and Gretchen has made a promise that she’s going to fix the dang roads,” she said. “Let’s take pictures for the next four years and let her know, ‘You better fix the dang roads.’”
In 2020, in addition to the presidential election, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, all 14 members of Congress and 110 members of the state House of Representatives, are up for election. But the cycle will have some distinct differences from the 2018 election.
- With voters approving a ballot proposal opening up more avenues for voting, a record-breaking turnout in 2018 could be even bigger in 2020.
- While voters have had to cite one of six reasons to be eligible to vote by absentee ballot, Proposal 3, which passed by a 67-33 percent margin, allows anyone to vote by absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.
- Straight ticket voting, which allows people to fill in one box to vote for all Democrats or all Republicans on the ballot, was not available for the 2018 election after Republicans in the Legislature passed a bill to ban the practice. Proposal 3 reinstates straight ticket voting, which traditionally has benefited Democrats more than Republicans.
- A lawsuit over how Michigan draws congressional and state legislative district lines, filed by the Michigan League of Women Voters, could be settled in U.S. District Court before the 2020 election cycle and could result in some different lines being drawn before the next statewide election. The legislative lines are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed. In Michigan, the maps have been drawn by whichever party is in control of the state Legislature and that was the Republicans in 2011. The lawsuit alleges that the GOP manipulated the maps to ensure that Republicans won more seats.
Beyond the 2020 election, the way congressional and legislative maps are drawn will change as a result of Proposal 2, which passed on a 61-39 percent margin on Nov. 6, and will create a 13-member bipartisan panel to redraw the maps.