By Catherine Lucey
President Trump ventures from the White House to Michigan Thursday on a day trip designed to applaud workers making ventilators while also seeking to boost political support in a battleground state.
The president's third such foray to a key state for the 2020 election in as many weeks, the visit to Michigan for a tour of a Ford Motor Co. facility making ventilators is perhaps the most politically fraught, coming amid Mr. Trump's protracted clash with the state's Democratic governor about the coronavirus response and reopening of businesses. It comes just a day after he slammed the state's plans to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.
But it also represents an opportunity for the president to flex his muscles of incumbency in a state he narrowly flipped from blue to red in 2016 and one that his advisers increasingly see as a challenge to hold in 2020.
Even as his administration has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Trump is embarking on high-profile travel while his likely Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, has been largely confined to holding events from his Delaware home.
"I call it an uphill battle, but it's not impossible for him to win here, " said Michigan GOP strategist Dennis Darnoi. "Going to the Ford plant, going to Ypsilanti, he's going to make an issue of trade and where Joe Biden stands on trade. These are all very strong issues for him."
Still, the optics of the visit could prove complicated.
Mr. Trump, who has eschewed wearing a mask in public, hasn't committed to wearing one for a tour of a Ford facility in Ypsilanti making ventilators despite a company policy requiring them. Asked what he would do Monday, Mr. Trump demurred, saying "we'll see." The White House also didn't invite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to the president's events, her office said, and a Whitmer spokesman highlighted that the governor has barred nonessential visits to manufacturing facilities.
"While the president's visit is contrary to the governor's order, this is an opportunity to showcase how important Michigan is to the response to COVID-19 and rebuilding our nation's economy," said the governor's communications director, Zack Pohl.
Mr. Trump, who has largely been on lockdown since March, but is eager to open the country, has recently begun venturing out on official White House trips, though he has yet to resume campaign appearances or rallies. Recent visits to Arizona and Pennsylvania followed similar scripts, with the president touring a manufacturing plant and speaking enthusiastically about the workforce and reopening, as more than a few songs from the campaign rally list play in the background.
Ahead of the visit, the president projected optimism about his chances in the state, saying Wednesday: "I think we're going to do very well in Michigan." He said he had spoken to Ms. Whitmer that day and had discussed the flooding in central Michigan where two dams had failed.
Looking to the 2020 matchup, the president is contending with rising suburban enthusiasm for Democrats as well as an opponent with widespread approval in the state. Given that Mr. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Michigan by less than 11,000 votes, Democrats see the state as a prime pickup opportunity.
"He's going to win Michigan. Everybody knows Joe," said Keith Williams, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party Black Caucus. "What he did for the automotive industry saved jobs."
A Fox News poll conducted last month showed Mr. Biden winning 49% of Michigan voters, compared with 41% for Mr. Trump. The survey of 801 Michigan voters had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
The Trump campaign believes that the president's messages on trade and China would resonate with Michigan voters. They have recently begun airing a series of negative ads against Mr. Biden, arguing that he has been soft on China. The Biden campaign has aggressively countered, arguing that Mr. Trump failed to hold Chinese President Xi Jingping accountable over the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China.
Rick Gorka, a spokesman for the Trump Victory committee, the joint fundraising operation of Mr. Trump's campaign and the Republican National Committee, also stressed the Trump campaign's head start on organization in the state.
The Biden campaign said they are also organizing and pointed to his primary win in Michigan over Sen. Bernie Sanders -- in which he won every county -- as evidence of his strength in the state, and said his experience working to rescue the auto industry, expand health-care access and his union support would aid him in Michigan.
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Biden argued that the president hadn't supported Michigan families, criticizing his "delayed, erratic and corrupt response to the pandemic."
"We need a President in the White House who understands what it's like to struggle and get back up -- with the same resilience that motivates Michigan families every single day," Mr. Biden said.
Write to Catherine Lucey at firstname.lastname@example.org