Monroe, Michigan (CNN)Chris Lands is filled with regret.
The 34-year-old United Auto Workers union member broke with eight years of supporting Barack Obama and Joe Biden and decided to vote for Donald Trump in 2016, believing the Republican’s promises to bring manufacturing jobs back to towns like Monroe, a once-thriving union community that has been hammered by job cuts and plant closings.Only two weeks into Trump’s presidency, however, Lands said he began to anguish over his decision and now, the father of four from what he described as a family tree full of union workers, will back Biden in November.”I feel like I helped cause this problem and now it’s my job to help make the solution,” said Lands, who added that his embarrassment over voting for Trump is so great has tried to hide the fact from his two older children.Visit CNN’s Election Center for full coverage of the 2020 race.Read MoreLands represents the archetypal voter from Monroe County, an area that had voted Democrat for decades — including for Obama in both 2008 and 2012 — but overwhelming backed Trump by 22 points in 2016. Unlike other so-called pivot counties, however, Monroe continued its conservative bent in 2018, backing Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, not the eventual winner, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer.Trump made a concerted play for union voters in 2016, pledging to bring automotive plants back to Michigan and take on unpopular trade agreements that helped hollow out communities like Monroe. The rhetoric worked, said Lands, by both drawing some union voters like him to Trump’s side and depressing union support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.”Trump comes out and says, we’re gonna do this and we’re gonna do that. And it was like, let’s give the guy a chance. Maybe he’s right,” said Lands, who works as a dealer at a casino just over the border in Toledo, Ohio.Lands fear is that little has changed in four years. Trump voters still harbor deep resentment to Democrats and more of his Trump supporting friends have decided to “double down on with Trump,” he said. “And It scares the hell out of me.”Biden, a politician with decades of experience appealing to White, working-class voters like Lands, is looking to cut into Trump’s hold on union households. He has rolled out a $700 billion plan to “Buy American” and strengthen manufacturing in the United States. His overarching economic plan is called “Build Back Better,” a call back to his working bringing back automotive companies from the brink in 2009. And he has recently leaned into a populist message by framing the election as a battle between Scranton, where he grew up, and Park Avenue, the tony boulevard in Trump’s New York. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at the United Auto Workers (UAW) Union Headquarters in Warren, Michigan, on September 9, 2020.Trump’s campaign and local Republicans hope the President’s 2016 rhetoric — along with his work to renegotiate NAFTA and turn it into the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement — will keep once blue places like Monroe deep red in November.”You drive around my county and you see… 50 times more (support for Trump) than what it was four years ago,” said Joe Bellino, a Republican state representative from the area. “People want to be represented in this state and sometimes we feel like we are not.”This fight over working class, primarily non-college educated voters could be determinative in a place like Michigan, a state synonymous with union voters.’Physical reminders’ of economic downturnThe scars of economic devastation are on full display in Monroe.Sitting at the confluence of the River Raisin and Lake Erie is the hollowed-out shell of a Ford Motor Company facility that used to employ thousands of people in Monroe. After beginning to close in 2007, the facility is now used as nothing more than a warehouse, its façade cracked and weathered as its parking lot sits empty.Those physical examples of trade policy that hurt certain American industries, like the North American Free Trade Agreement, played directly into Trump’s appeal in 2016, said Michigan’s former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.”There is such reality on the ground of people feeling the hollowing out of their industrial base and they see it every day if they live in one of these communities that is a supplier to the auto industry,” said Granholm, who is a CNN contributor. “These are reminders every day, physical reminders, of the loss of these jobs and Trump was smart to talk about it.”Unions are engrained in every aspect of Monroe County. The town boasts a museum dedicated to the area’s union history and retired union organizers in the county brag about their once ironclad grip on the politics of the area. But times have changed and, as plants began closing over the last two decades, union membership began to dwindle and change, with the power once displayed by organizers like Jerry Hesson seen as a relic.”When I was running the council, no one got elected without being endorsed by labor,” said Hesson, an avowed Democrat who retired nearly a decade ago after years as an organizer for the AFL-CIO. “We lost a lot of plants… and, quite frankly, we lost a lot of our members to the other side of the aisle.”US President Donald Trump claps as he arrives arrives for a campaign rally at MBS International Airport in Freeland, Michigan on September 10, 2020. The area was once home to so-called Dingell Democrats, named after the late Michigan congressman John Dingell who represented the state for six decades, including Monroe for much of his congressional tenure.Debbie Dingell, the late congressman’s wife and now the congresswoman representing nearby Ann Arbor and areas north of Monroe County, lamented the fact that Monroe — an area that she said once loved her husband and he loved back — has moved so far right.”We were always there and we knew everybody,” Dingell recalled. “And we went to church there and we went to the picnics there.”In a sign of how critical a place like Monroe was to Democrats decades ago, then-President Bill Clinton symbolically passed the torch to Vice President Al Gore at an event in Monroe’s Loranger Square on August 15, 2000, backing Gore’s presidential candidacy and touting his understanding of areas like Southeast Michigan. Monroe was selected, according to reports from the time, because it was seen as a bellwether to Democratic success in the state.Monroe was moved out of Dingell’s district in 2013 and is now represented by Tim Walberg, a Republican who got into politics after years of being a pastor in Michigan and Indiana.”Democrats just stopped caring and we can’t stop caring about working men and women,” lamented Dingell. “Democrats have to talk to working men and women. I think Joe Biden understands that and I think he is really trying to do that.”Debbie Dingell’s loss has been Bellino’s gain.Bellino won his seat in the Michigan statehouse in the same year Trump overwhelmingly carried the county. He said, before he began voting solidly Republican, he was a regular Dingell supporter.”Twenty years, even 10 years ago, you couldn’t win a county wide election as a Republican,” said Bellino. “We were hit hard by NAFTA and we felt left out. … And President Trump, who wasn’t from the swamp, he offered a shiny beacon.”Terry Bowman, the co-chair of the Michigan GOP and a Monroe native, is banking on that change being permanent. And he believes that as surprising as the result in Monroe County was four years ago, there is a chance the Trump carries the county by an even larger margin this year.Bowman’s late father worked at the Ford plant that closed in Monroe and Bowman has worked for the Ford Motor Company since 1996. When Bowman was growing up, he said he father would take a union card to the voting booth every few years and reliably back the candidate his union had endorsed.”He’s always kind of laughed at me because I was a Republican and supported a conservative candidate,” Bowman said with a laugh. But, he recalled, his father broke with his history of voting Democratic in 2016 and backed Trump, telling his son, “I don’t know what happened to that damn party, but it doesn’t represent me anymore.””I think that is representative of what we saw in 2016,” Bowman said, “and even more of what we’ll see in 2020.”Union leaders grapple with a changing countyThe 2016 election, and Hillary Clinton’s loss, still stings many top union organizers. But none more so than those in Monroe County, where Trump’s win signaled the culmination of the county becoming a Republican stronghold.Chris Sharpe, the former president of the UAW Local 723 in Monroe, said the support for Trump grew slowly in the county, but as Election Day in 2016 neared, “he began to gain steam and momentum.”Mike Jewell, the head of United Association 671 Monroe, expressed a similar feeling, saying he knew on Election Day in 2016 that Trump was about to throttle Clinton in his county and likely would win the election.”I drove past three voting precincts that morning and I knew then that Trump would win,” said Jewell. “There were lines there that I had never seen before.”With 2020 looming, both Sharpe and Jewell said the loss in 2016 was just as much about issues that voters had with Clinton — members often tied her to NAFTA job losses and said they didn’t trust her — than a love they had for Trump. And that makes them both hopeful that Biden will be able to at least cut into the President’s support in the county.”The key is to get the union members back out to vote. I think they took that election off,” Jewell said of 2016.And both the last four years under Trump and Biden as the nominee help in that cause.”Trump made a lot of promises to bring those jobs back and hold American companies accountable for shipping jobs overseas,” said Sharpe. “And that hasn’t really happened.”David Garcia, a United Auto Workers (UAW) member who is employed at the General Motors Co. Flint Assembly plant in Flint, Michigan, pickets outside of the plant as they strike on September 16, 2019.Manufacturing jobs in Michigan did increase during the first few years of the Trump administration. But the coronavirus hit the state hard and manufacturing jobs plummeted, leaving voters to consider who to support at a time when tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been erased from when the President took office.More members, Sharpe said, associate Biden with work to save the auto industry during the 2009 economic downturn and see him as someone who understands their lives.”There’s a trust factor being built there that he hasn’t changed,” said Sharpe. Eric Hyers, Biden’s state director in Michigan, has led a campaign that leans heavily on Biden’s work during the Great Recession, highlighting his trips to Michigan and his work with the major auto companies. But even Hyers, who successfully led Democrat Andy Beshear’s campaign in traditionally red Kentucky, admits that places like Monroe, which swung so heavily to Trump four years ago, may be too big of a stretch for Biden to win. To win Michigan, however, Biden just needs to cut into the President’s margin.”There is not a county we are not competing in,” said Hyers. “And margins matter. Tactically, you don’t have to win every single county. But tamping down margins where you can and running up margins where you can, that is how you win states.”
400 Bad Request
400 Bad Request