Presidential contenders O’Rourke, Gillibrand visit Michigan
By DAVID EGGERT
CENTER LINE, Mich. — Democratic presidential contenders showed Michigan’s importance on Monday, campaigning early in a state that Donald Trump became the first Republican in decades to win.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York stopped in the vote-rich Detroit area for multiple events, a year before the state’s primary. Trump, himself, will campaign in Michigan next week — another sign that the 2020 race is intensifying.
“I wanted to be here in this state as early as I possibly could,” O’Rourke said after touring a carpentry apprenticeship school in Oakland County on Monday — a day he also reported raising more than $6 million online in the first 24 hours of his campaign. It was one of three stops he made.
Earlier at a coffee shop in Macomb County, a man in the crowd of more 200 asked O’Rourke how Democrats can win back white blue-collar workers who helped carry Trump to a narrow victory over Hillary Clinton. O’Rourke responded that Trump has been “very successful at exacerbating the divisions and differences” among Americans with a “divide-and-conquer approach.”
“We can succumb to that and return in kind. Or we can transcend that and be above that,” he said, adding that citizens must confront “the hard truths of slavery and segregation and suppression, the way that wealth was built in this country.”
He said income inequality in the U.S. is “obscene” and called for significant government spending on education and infrastructure.
In Oakland County, Gillibrand participated in town hall that was to air Monday night on MSNBC. She blasted Trump for spreading “fear and hate and degradation across this country” and touted her ability to “bring people together” and pass bipartisan legislation, noting that she won a Republican congressional district before later winning re-election to the Senate by a wide margin. She told reporters that Michigan is a lot like upstate New York.
“I think these are places that very much felt left behind in the last election, that they didn’t hear their stories being talked about enough. And so they didn’t feel like the Democrats were going to help them. I’m going to help every person in this country,” said Gillibrand, who formally joined the crowded Democratic field on Sunday.
Gillibrand also campaigned at an event hosted by Fems for Dems inside a Clawson furniture and women’s clothing store, talking up policy priorities such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. In attendance was Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has encouraged presidential candidates to visit the state and said Gillibrand was “the first to call.”
“We know that all roads to the White House run through Michigan,” said Whitmer, who is not backing a candidate yet.
O’Rourke spoke with a number of students during his tour of the training facility, including Malcolm Kennedy, a 40-year-old Detroit resident who is going into his third year of the program.
Kennedy said he hopes O’Rourke’s visit is a sign that presidential candidates will be spending more time in Midwestern states than they did during the 2016 election cycle.
“That’s something I think that was taken for granted in the last race in regards to the Midwest in a sense,” Kennedy said. “It was almost as if I feel like it was almost like a given.
“Hopefully, we get a little bit more attention, not just Michigan, Ohio, all the manufacturing places.”