Trump tells Michigan's Republican chair to ramp up outreach to Black voters in Detroit, chair says

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FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Mich., Feb. 17, 2024. Trump is urging Republican leaders in Michigan to target Black voters in the swing state. Trump met with Michigan GOP chair Pete Hoekstra last Tuesday, March 19, in Florida to strategize his reelection bid and keyed in on "nontraditional Republican voters," Hoekstra said Monday, March 25. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

LANSING, Mich. – Former President Donald Trump is urging Republicans in Michigan to target Black voters in Detroit and other predominantly African American areas in the swing state, state GOP leaders said Monday.

Michigan GOP leaders, including the state party’s new chair, traveled to Florida to strategize the Trump campaign’s approach to winning the state in 2024. Much of the discussion centered on southeast Michigan, an area with large groups of minority voters who have been critical of President Joe Biden, particularly over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war that has caused high civilian casualties in Gaza.

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"The president believes that there’s a case to be made for reaching out to African American voters and to Hispanic voters, whether it’s in Saginaw or going into Wayne County or Muskegon, anywhere across the state,” said Michigan GOP chair Pete Hoekstra. Wayne County is home to much of metro Detroit.

Both Biden and Trump will hotly contest Michigan, a state that flipped Democratic in 2020 and is widely seen as critical to both candidates' chances in November.

Arab American protests over the war have driven protest vote campaigns in Michigan's Democratic primary and subsequent party races. But Democratic leaders in southeast Michigan have expressed concern that the party is overlooking restlessness among Black voters, a core Democratic constituency from which Trump's campaign argues it can win more support.

Only 58% of Black adults said they approved of Biden’s performance as president in a February AP-NORC poll, down from 94% in January 2021. At the same time, however, only 24% of Black adults said they have a favorable view of Trump.

Some community members in Saginaw — a key bellwether county — were angry that Biden last week skipped going to a Black church during a visit to the 46% Black city and ultimately went to the front porch of two local leaders, who are both white. Afterward, he met with a Black family at a public golf course.

The pushback in metro Detroit has seemingly caught Trump's eye. Hoekstra, who was the lone Michigan leader to meet directly with Trump, said their conversation centered on southeast Michigan and targeting “nontraditional Republicans voters and traditional Democrat voters.”

“This meeting was about let’s talk about southeast Michigan and creating relationships, and then make sure that we continue this dialogue over the next seven and a half months,” said Hoekstra.

Hoekstra said that the Trump campaign is “very interested in Wayne,” which is home to Detroit and the Democrats' largest base, having voted nearly 70% for Biden in 2020. Other focuses are Saginaw, Kent and Ottawa counties, places where Trump did well in 2016 before losing support in 2020, according to Hoekstra.

The Biden campaign said in a statement that Michigan voters “remember Trump’s racist record, and they’re not going to fall for his desperate pandering.”

“As president, Trump peddled bigoted policies, tried to cut health care for thousands of Black Michiganders, and sent thousands of Michigan jobs overseas," said Alyssa Bradley, the Biden campaign’s Michigan communications director. “Folks here know Joe Biden has delivered where Trump failed, and they’ll reject this cheap effort to win their votes in November.”

Both the Michigan GOP and Trump's campaign are well behind Democrats and facing a short timeline to catch up in fundraising. Hoekstra only recently took over the state party, which was thousands in debt and plagued by infighting after over a year of Kristina Karamo's leadership. While Hoekstra has worked quickly to reach out to top donors, the party is nowhere close to reaching the $30 million it was able to fundraise in past election cycles.

Hoekstra said that the state party's leadership team is close to finalized and that Trump's campaign would likely be announcing a lead person in the state this week. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden's reelection team has been in place for months. His campaign co-chair is the state's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

GOP chairs in two of Michigan’s largest counties, Oakland’s Vance Patrick and Macomb’s Mark Forton, met with senior Trump adviser James Blair in a separate meeting to discuss strategy in metro Detroit and ways for the campaign to be as “proactive as possible,” said Patrick.

Patrick said that he specifically mentioned launching outreach efforts for Black and Hispanic voters “as soon as possible rather than waiting until June.”

“The sense of urgency in Michigan is pretty apparent with all of us that went down there,” said Patrick, who added that he was told that Trump said “we have no other choice but to win" the state.

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