GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As Donald Trump kicked off the final full week before Election Day, he dedicated a day of campaigning solely in Michigan, a state that has not backed a Republican for president since 1988.
Up next, a policy speech in Pennsylvania and a rally in Wisconsin, states that also haven’t gone red since the 1980s.
As he tries to chart a path to 270 electoral votes, the GOP nominee’s schedule is marked with long-shot bids and last-ditch hopes. The risky strategy sacrifices face time in battleground states, but the gambit, if successful, would upend the political map.
At a rally Monday afternoon in Warren, Mich., Trump seemed almost giddy as he repeatedly mentioned how a win in the state would buck historical precedent.
“No Republican has won since like Reagan or something” — it was actually George H.W. Bush — “many years ago. And I said, ‘I love Michigan,’” he said.
Late-autumn encroachment on rival territory is not unique to Trump. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is making her own efforts to pick off typically red states. Past elections also have seen eleventh-hour maneuvers, such as then-GOP nominee Mitt Romney making an incursion into Pennsylvania two days before the 2012 election and George W. Bush visiting California just before the 2000 vote.
This year, Trump is hoping the populist rhetoric that resonates with white working-class voters hurt by the Rust Belt’s decline in manufacturing will be enough to flip blue states.
“Trump is doing worse than prior Republican nominees in diverse and college-educated states like Colorado and Virginia, so he has to make up ground in states with the opposite demographic profile, including Michigan,” said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.
Public polls show Trump may be well-positioned to capture Ohio and Iowa, the more archetypal swing states that most recently have been won by Democrats.
He faces steeper hurdles in the more reliably Democratic states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, where he trails in public polls by an average of five, six and six points, respectively, according to Real Clear Politics.
If the national race tightens significantly in the coming days, the time invested in those states may yield dividends.
“The campaigns are interested in potential tipping-point states if the race closes to 50-50 nationally, not just where they are in the polls right now,” Grossmann said. “In a closer national race, Michigan should be competitive.”
Trump has made a number of high-profile visits to the state, and Michigan and New Mexico are among a dozen states where the campaign placed a $25 million ad buy for the final week of the race, digital director Brad Parscale announced Tuesday.
Trump also has enthusiastic grass-roots groups such as the Michigan Conservative Coalition organizing flash mobs and knocking on doors on his behalf.
Scott Hagerstrom, who runs Trump’s campaign in Michigan, said it has more than 30 offices in the state and consistently knocks on at least 100,000 doors a week.
The biggest challenge, he said, is “to get people to believe again, to believe that it’s possible.”
Supporters at a rally in Grand Rapids said they have had little interaction with Trump’s campaign and don’t see much formal organization on the ground.
Carol Commissaris of Sparta, Mich., said she had hoped to volunteer at a phone bank or walk door to door with the Trump campaign.
“I’ve been trying to get ahold of people here to find out what I can do,” said Commissaris, a retired truck driver. “I can’t get their phone number.”
Hagerstrom said he felt confident they were reaching voters, noting campaign materials such as yard signs eagerly being scooped up by supporters.
Mary Simcox, a stay-at-home mother from Portland, Mich., said what the campaign lacked in organization, it had made up for in “hidden support.”
“People are reluctant to talk about it,” she said.
The Democratic ticket also is eyeing unconventional battlegrounds. Since Clinton launched her campaign, and particularly since Trump emerged as her likely foe, her advisers have wrestled with how aggressively to campaign in states beyond the well-worn path of Democratic nominees of the past two decades.
The biggest gamble: a stop by Clinton on Wednesday in Arizona, cementing her campaign’s view that the state is competitive. Running mate Tim Kaine will follow her there the next day, giving a speech at one event entirely in Spanish.
Campaign manager Robby Mook called Arizona a “battleground state” based on its analysis of early voting data and voter registration trends.
“What I would like to call the Hillary coalition is starting to emerge,” Mook said, adding Republican women to an electorate that mirrors what has been referred to as the “Obama coalition” of minority, young and independent voters.
“When you combine those independents and our performance with Hispanics, and the fact that those groups are turning out at proportionately higher rates, the race in Arizona is now tied.”
But the traditional swing states are not going neglected. On Monday, Clinton made her ninth stop in Ohio since the Democratic convention. She’ll return there by week’s end, after making her second stop of the week in Florida.
And every day this week, either she or a top-flight surrogate will appear in North Carolina, a state Obama carried narrowly in 2008 only to see it flip back to the Republican column in 2012.
Trump, meanwhile, plans to follow up his blue-state jaunt with four consecutive rallies in Florida.US