Democrats Hope To Win Over Kent County, Mich., In November

Jun 23, 2020
Originally published on June 24, 2020 12:41 pm
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Michigan is likely to be a battleground state again this fall. For decades, Kent County, home to Grand Rapids, has been a Republican stronghold. Now that's changing. Across the country, white suburban voters say they're waking up to racism. NPR's Asma Khalid reports how white voters in Kent County view President Trump's response to these issues could be a major factor in November.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Kent County prides itself on its moderate Midwestern politics. Both Republicans and Democrats like to point out that Gerald Ford, the president who led the country in the wake of Watergate, is from here.

TIM ENGLAND: This country needs a man like Gerald Ford.

KHALID: That's Tim England. He now owns the home Ford lived in as a boy.

ENGLAND: His philosophy was that he wanted to heal this country.

KHALID: England, like many folks around here, used to be a Republican. But he says there's no way he would vote for Donald Trump.

ENGLAND: It's a disgrace what he's done to our democracy.

KHALID: Trump won Kent County by three points. He did worse here than Mitt Romney in 2012, in part because of people like Dave Levitt.

DAVE LEVITT: I think today I would say I'm a fallen conservative, former conservative.

KHALID: Levitt works in real estate and mostly voted Republican because of economic policy. He largely ignored the social issues, but he says he can't anymore.

LEVITT: I can't see good people on both sides in Charlottesville. I'm sorry. I can't see that, you know? If you're marching down the street with a tiki torch and saying Jews will not replace us, you're not going to - I'm not going to support that.

KHALID: Kent County is the kind of place Joe Biden may need if he intends to win back Michigan. It's a place full of suburban voters, white voters well into their 60s who are having a reckoning with race. Mary Meuzelaar is a former Republican who began voting for Democrats in 2008 with Barack Obama.

MARY MEUZELAAR: I think I didn't understand white privilege. I just didn't understand it because it wasn't in my - the way I was brought up.

KHALID: The death of George Floyd devastated her.

MEUZELAAR: I'm so embarrassed because I didn't see it before. I want so badly to make up for the things that we've done for the last 150 years, and I feel helpless at times.

KHALID: But voting makes her feel like she can do something. And the way the president has handled this situation, she says, makes it easy to vote against him. One major reason this county is changing is because lots of new people are moving in, and many are college-educated professionals who lean toward the Democratic Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No peace.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: No peace.

KHALID: At a Juneteenth celebration the other night, probably half the crowd was white. Multiple people told me they'd never attended a Juneteenth event before. I met Suzi Hall with her daughter. The 62-year-old teacher was carrying a sign with the words justice for all.

SUZI HALL: The last couple of years I realized that I taught my kids to be colorblind. But I'm realizing, I guess, and am in the process of educating myself more that race is important, especially as our country is not equal to all races.

KHALID: Hall is a Democrat, and racial injustice has become a rallying cry for many. But the idea that this racial unrest might sway Trump voters away from him seems unlikely.

JEFF CHRISTIANS: You know, he's very self-centered and, I think, self-serving.

KHALID: Do you still envision voting for him for re-election in November?

CHRISTIANS: I would vote for the Trump platform again because of the Republican pro-business approach. The economic factors are very significant for where we are right now.

KHALID: Christians may not like the president's behavior, but he's not going to convert. And Democrats around here are beginning to realize that. They say the key to victory this November isn't about trying to persuade Trump voters. It's about trying to make sure Democrats who are riled up now actually stay fed up and show up on Election Day.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILKY CHANCE SONG, "STOLEN DANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.