For Trump, wooing Detroit may be Mission Impossible

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump comes to Detroit Saturday in search of votes from a more diverse audience, he’ll face some long odds with the black community.

Nationally, Trump is polling in the low single digits among African Americans in many polls. In Michigan, among African Americans statewide, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is getting 91% of the vote in the latest poll from the Lansing-based polling firm EPIC/MRA which was done last month. In Detroit, where the sample size is much smaller and the margin of error is greater, she gets 92% of the vote with 8% of those surveyed undecided.

Trump did not get any support in the poll from Detroit voters.

“After all the things he’s been saying, I’m not sure his rhetoric is impressing all that many African Americans,” said Bernie Porn, president of EPIC/MRA.

And historically, the deck is stacked even higher against Republican candidates.

In 2008, Detroiters gave 97% of their vote to Barack Obama over Sen. John McCain. In 2012, the vote was 98% for Obama to 2% for Mitt Romney. There were dozens of polling precincts — mostly in Detroit — where not a single vote was cast for Romney in 2012.

Trump's positions and some of his behavior have convinced many African Americans that  he is not a candidate they can support. Trump was a leader of the so-called “birther” movement, questioning whether Obama was a U.S. citizen. Recently, at an appearance in Michigan the GOP nominee, in trying to convince African Americans to vote for him asked: “What the hell do you have to lose?”

“I’ve almost tuned him out. He’s said enough stupid things that I don’t have to listen to him anymore,” said Thom Gatson, 63, of Detroit.

“No matter what Donald Trump says when he arrives, there is no pivot,” said Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, who ran for mayor of Detroit in 2013. “He’s the same divisive and extreme presidential candidate that he’s always been.”

But that isn’t stopping the state Republican Party from trying to court the African-American vote for Trump. After Romney's drubbing among Detroiters in 2012, the state party opened a Detroit office three years ago as a way to both attract black voters to the party and recruit them as volunteers and candidates for office.

“I’ve worked with multiple organizations just trying to have the dialogue. Not only am I the eyes and ears for my community, I take back what I’m hearing from my people and bringing it back to the party and tell them that these are some of the issues we need to focus on,” said Wayne Bradley, African American engagement director for the Michigan Republican Party.

“Trump brings his own unique set of challenges, but at the same time he brings opportunity because there are a lot of people who have already heard of him and there are people who are attracted to him just by his celebrity,” Bradley added. “Maybe sometimes he’s made it difficult, but people are willing to listen to what Trump has to say.”

Trump’s visit to Great Faith Ministries International on Saturday, in which he will attend the service and tape an interview with the church’s pastor, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, provides both an opportunity and a big risk, said Lansing political consultant Robert Kolt.

“It’s kind of like holding a cherry bomb. It could explode in his hand at any moment,” Kolt said. “You have to listen to people, exchange ideas and be emotive as well as intellectual at the same time. But that’s not the template for this visit.”

Trump’s real intention, said Republican political consultant Katie Packer, who was one of Mitt Romney’s campaign managers in 2012, is to shore up his standing among moderate Republicans who are wary of his strident rhetoric on everything from race to immigration.

“He has good pollsters who are telling him that the reason he’s losing is that he’s not collecting his share of Republicans that you have to have to be competitive,” she said.  “A lot of people view him, in the worst case, as a racist or at least someone who is very comfortable with racists.

“He’s trying to demonstrate that he’s willing to reach out to nontraditional audiences because his pollsters are telling him that he has numbers with women that are not sustainable,” Packer added. “None of this is real outreach to the African-American community. Over his entire campaign he hasn’t expressed any interest in that particular group.”

But if he can get a message out about jobs and the need for better education policy and school choice, he won’t necessarily win the vote in Detroit, but he’ll make a dent, Bradley predicted.

“I do believe he’s going to get a higher percentage than the last two cycles because people don’t trust Hillary Clinton,” he said. “Barack Obama was a special candidacy. People really took that as a personal virtue to get involved with his campaign. And people just are not clamoring to help her.”

That’s true for Gwen Broadneck, 79, of Detroit, who plans to vote for Clinton, not because she likes or supports the former secretary of state.

“I am forced to vote for her, because I cannot vote for Donald Trump,” she said. “But I just don’t feel she’s honest. I have the attitude that she is the lesser of two evils.”

TRUMP'S VISIT

Specific details of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s visit to Detroit on Saturday still were not available Thursday evening, but the service at Great Faith Ministries International on Grand River in Detroit begins at 11 a.m.

The Trump campaign told the New York Times Thursday night that Trump will deliver brief remarks to the congregation and tour some Detroit neighborhoods with Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neuro surgeon, Detroit native and Republican candidate for president.

(2016 © Detroit Free Press)


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