(Race ratings come from the Cook Political Report.)
Jill Rechsteiner of Midland helps unload boxes filled with petition signatures as they are delivered by Unlock Michigan to the Michigan Department of State Bureau of Elections.
MICHIGAN: Trump Fuels a Fight Over the Governor’s Emergency Powers
Electoral votes: 16. 2016 margin: Trump +0.2. 2020 rating: Lean Democratic.
DETROIT — There hasn’t been a Trump campaign event in Michigan in the past four months that hasn’t included a chance for supporters to sign a petition that could limit the powers of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, one of the president’s chief adversaries.
The group spearheading the effort, Unlock Michigan, has been seeking to repeal a 1945 law that gives the governor broad authority to declare emergencies during a public health crisis. It turned in more than 500,000 signatures on Friday, with the hopes that the Republican-controlled Legislature can act on the petition before the end of the year.
Under the law, Whitmer signed executive orders shutting down most of the state’s businesses during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 139,000 people and killed more than 7,000 in Michigan. She has extended the state of emergency every month, but she has also gradually allowed businesses to reopen with limited capacities.
Unlock Michigan’s efforts may have been superseded late Friday when the Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, said Whitmer did not have the authority to extend her original emergency declaration after it expired on April 30, noting the extensions “violated the Michigan Constitution because it delegated to the executive branch the legislative powers of state government and allowed the executive branch to exercise those powers indefinitely.”
Whitmer called the ruling “deeply disappointing,” noting that it will not go into effect for 21 days and promising to use other sources of authority to deal with the virus in Michigan.
Trump’s campaign hadn’t coordinated with Unlock Michigan, but he added fuel to the effort. He started on April 17, tweeting “Liberate Michigan!” two days after thousands of people protested the lockdowns at the state Capitol in Lansing.
He has continued to call on Michigan and other states to fully reopen. And at Tuesday’s presidential debate, he singled out Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, key battleground states with Democratic governors.
“You’ve got to open these states up,” Trump said. “It’s not fair. You’re talking about almost, it’s like being in prison.”
“This is what Trump has inspired in the state: liberate Michigan and attack Whitmer,” said John Sellek, a Republican political consultant in Brighton.
Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for Unlock Michigan, said the organization would not stop its effort after the ruling.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing because a different court could reverse the decision and we still want to get the law repealed,” he said.
Under Michigan law, citizen-led petition initiatives approved by the Legislature are not subject to a veto by the governor. But the signatures first have to be vetted by the Bureau of Elections and approved by the Board of Canvassers, a process that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has said could take more than 100 days.
That pushes a possible vote on the petition into 2021, when the partisan makeup of the state House of Representatives could change. All House seats are up for election in November, and Democrats need to flip four of them to take over the majority.
Unlock Michigan is prepared to sue the state to get the signatures certified much quicker so the Republican majority can repeal the law before the end of the year, Wszolek said.
Attorney General Dana Nessel, however, has opened an investigation after an Unlock Michigan trainer was filmed telling employees how to use deceptive measures to get people to sign the petitions.
Wszolek said the group had thrown out more than 800 signatures gathered by employees who were trained by that person.
— KATHLEEN GRAY
Trump tosses a cap to supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport.
MINNESOTA: On the Iron Range, Signs of Rural America’s Shift to the Right
Electoral votes: 10. 2016 margin: Clinton +1.5. 2020 rating: Lean Democratic.
HIBBING, Minn. — The wintry layout of northeastern Minnesota is arranged with lakes and forests and small mining towns that form the Iron Range, a region long synonymous with pro-union members of the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. But rural voters feeling abandoned by the party’s metropolitan factions have more recently gravitated toward Republican alternatives.
That cultural shift manifested in 2016 when Trump infiltrated DFL strongholds on the Range, promising to strengthen the iron-ore and steel industries and support proposed copper-nickel mines near wilderness areas. Hillary Clinton carried Duluth and the northeastern counties, but Trump flipped the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses the Range and had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Now Trump is trying to become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Minnesota since 1972, visiting the district twice in recent weeks to try to add to his 16-point margin from four years ago.
At a campaign rally Wednesday at Duluth International Airport, the president told roughly 3,000 supporters that “Obama closed the Iron Range and I opened it.” It was his last rally before his coronavirus diagnosis took him off the campaign trail.
“Thousands and thousands of workers,” Trump told the crowd. “They were all laid off. And now they’re all back.”
His words rang true for elected officials and union members from the Range who drove 70 miles south to see him. But Aaron Brown, an author and historian who teaches at Hibbing Community College, said the region’s mining industry was cyclical regardless of Trump’s claims. “We’ve been opening and closing like a shutter open in the wind every two years to four years for the last 20 years,” he said.
At least 1,750 miners were temporarily laid off this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most have returned to work, but U.S. Steel’s taconite mine in Keewatin remains idled, as do hundreds of miners.
Six Republican mayors from the district endorsed Trump for reelection in August, echoing his assertion that the Range has been thriving “for the first time in a long time.” But leaders from the United Steelworkers union quickly issued a rebuttal letter, arguing that Obama’s tariffs on Chinese steel in 2015 reopened mines. Trump also imposed tariffs on imported steel, but it was “a little too late” to save jobs, the union said.
In Chisholm, Cheryl Zgonc organized a DFL protest the following month, demanding that the small town’s mayor retract his endorsement of the president or resign. “Trump is coming up here to secure the Range because he can’t secure the Twin Cities,” said Zgonc, a 55-year-old Delta Air Lines employee whose husband is a union member at U.S. Steel’s Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron. “We’ll be pro-Biden up here and I think we’ll stay blue. People think it’ll be a different outcome because they’re so loud.”
Hours before Trump’s arrival in Duluth, Biden’s campaign announced endorsements from 45 northern Minnesota leaders and released a seven-page economic plan for the Iron Range.
Cal Warwas, a union member at the Minntac Mine, drove from his home in rural Eveleth to Trump’s Duluth event. He said he had struggled to support his wife and their nine children when Biden was vice president. “That was a really dark time for the Range,” said Warwas, 44. “When people talk about Obama’s administration fixing everything, I say: ‘You already failed. The suffering didn’t ever have to happen.’”
He is siding against his union leaders in supporting Trump, whom he described as a savvy business leader always in his corner. “I don’t know how the rest of Minnesota is going to go,” he said, “but in rural Minnesota and the Iron Range, I’ve never seen people more excited to vote for a Republican.”
Brown, the historian, said Trump could easily win the region, but not the state. “The Trump campaign and the Republican Party have grasped onto the Range as a symbol that they’re bringing back these old industries that were maligned by Democrats and liberals and environmentalists,” he said. “It’s a great story and that’s what they’re selling. But there’s not enough people here to change the vote in Minnesota or the country.”
— ERIC KILLELEA
Volunteers in support of US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden work at the Lackawanna County Democratic Committee headquarters.
PENNSYLVANIA: ‘Blue Wave’ Rolls Into Suburbs
Electoral votes: 20. 2016 margin: Trump +0.7. 2020 rating: Lean Democratic.
MEDIA, Pa. — Scott Richardson, a restaurant owner in the Philadelphia suburbs, used to be a registered Republican, and voted for Trump in 2016. He has since registered as a Democrat, and he says he will vote for Biden this time because he is disappointed by the president’s handling of health care and the coronavirus pandemic.
Richardson, 64, from Swarthmore in Delaware County, said he was “excited” to vote for Trump four years ago because the candidate promised to “drain the swamp” and reform health care. But, Richardson said, he has done neither as president.
“One of his campaign promises was that he was going to eliminate Obamacare but he was going to come up with something else, and I have not heard of any program that set forth what they’re going to do,” Richardson said. “All it’s been is, ‘Get rid of it.’”
Richardson’s vote for the Democratic ticket will be one that officials from both parties expect will deliver Delaware County for Biden. Democrats currently enjoy an advantage in voter registrations over Republicans in the county — a margin of almost 38,000 — and in 2019 took control of the county council for the first time since the Civil War.
Democrats also have a registration edge in the three other suburban counties outside Philadelphia, leading party officials to hope that a strong showing for Biden in southeast Pennsylvania could offset strong support for the president in rural areas of the battleground state.
Tom McGarrigle, chairman of the Delaware County Republican Party, said he did not expect Trump to win the county, given a “blue wave” that began to take over local politics in 2017.
But he said he had noticed a shift toward the president over the past month among customers at his auto repair shop, driven by concerns about the violence that has broken out during largely peaceful protests in some cities, including Philadelphia. He also cited a monthslong homeless encampment on a Philadelphia sports field whose leaders have defied requests by the administration of Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, to disperse.
“A lot of it has to do with what’s going on in the country, with the defund the police departments, the rioting and the lack of action by the Democratic mayors in these big cities,” he said, referring to growing support for the president. “People look at the city of Philadelphia, and it scares them.”
Richardson, the former Republican, said health insurance premiums were a top concern. The rates for himself and his wife, Theresa, have doubled during the Trump administration, and he is worried that the Affordable Care Act may be scrapped; Richardson has preexisting conditions and uses the insurance made available by the law.
What clinched the decision to switch his vote this year was Trump’s handling of the pandemic, which Richardson said had failed to show national leadership when it was badly needed. “How can you trust a man who has not stepped up to the plate?” he asked.
— JON HURDLE
Supporters of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence cheer.
WISCONSIN: College Town at a Crossroads
Electoral votes: 10. 2016 margin: Trump +0.8. 2020 rating: Lean Democratic.
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Every year since 1961, crowds have filled La Crosse’s streets during the last weekend of September for what is billed as the longest-running Oktoberfest in the Midwest, a time when everyone shares Gemütlichkeit, a spirit of welcome and good cheer.
The coronavirus pandemic scuttled the 2020 event. The streets were nearly empty last weekend, and the mood in La Crosse was hardly cheerful.
Coronavirus cases have surged in Wisconsin recently, and the White House coronavirus task force has designated both the state and La Crosse County as “red zones” with high rates of infection.
Trump had planned a campaign rally this weekend in La Crosse, but on Thursday his campaign moved it to Janesville — before suspending its events entirely after the president’s coronavirus diagnosis.
Last Saturday evening, some students from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse partied on lawns and some residents hit the downtown taverns. That annoyed Brianna Oliver, 29, who is working nights so she can help her 7-year-old daughter with virtual schooling during the day.
“People were posting yesterday on Snapchat that they were confirmed positive for COVID, but they were out and about — no one was wearing masks, not even the police,” Oliver said.
Trump’s response to the pandemic has shaped the political views “of everyone I know,” she said, especially after he “made light of it.”
“Most people are ready for a change,” she said.
By Sunday afternoon, the UW-La Crosse campus was mostly silent. “Everything is closed,” said Lucas Joniaux, 18, a freshman who sat at a picnic table with his classmates Kaden Appleton, 19, and Elliot Sankey, 19.
Sankey noted that with coffee shops shuttered, he sometimes walks to a Kwik Trip gas station for snacks.
Kwik Trip is a well-liked employer headquartered in La Crosse, which is also home to a large hospital and a Mayo Clinic facility, providing a mix of professional and blue-collar jobs as well as Democratic and Republican voters.
But like so many other communities, La Crosse, a city of 50,000, has been hit economically by the pandemic. Mark Goede, a co-owner of the Breakfast Club & Pub on Main Street, said many restaurants and taverns were struggling.
The La Crosse area is home to many Catholic voters; the La Crosse Diocese includes 158 parishes across 19 counties in west-central Wisconsin. Both Trump and Biden have been pursuing white Catholics in the Midwest, some of whom they see as persuadable voters.
The differences at two churches in La Crosse on Sunday morning illustrated how both parties see opportunities among the faithful here.
The mood was somber at St. James the Less, whose pastor, the Rev. James Altman, has drawn attention for a YouTube video posted in August in which he denounced Democrats’ support for abortion rights, the Black Lives Matter movement and other issues. “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat, period,” he said.
“We’re seeing Satan unleashed and his minions working,” Altman said on Sunday before distributing communion, leaning forward to place the hosts on the tongues of the shoulder-to-shoulder faithful, who, like the priest, eschewed the diocese-mandated masks.
Jean Weymier, 58, who drove from West Bend across the state to see Altman, said: “He says the truth. The Democrat Party is evil.”
But at St. Joseph the Workman parish in downtown La Crosse, where masks were ubiquitous, one churchgoer, who declined to give her name, strongly disagreed.
“It saddens me because it’s not what the church is about,” she said of Altman’s video. “Abortion is a complicated issue, and Catholics can certainly be Democrats.”
— KAY NOLAN