Trump to visit Detroit church as part of Black voter push

By Bianca Flowers and James Oliphant

DETROIT (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump will venture to Detroit on Saturday to attend a roundtable discussion at a Black church, the latest in an effort to peel away Black voters from President Joe Biden ahead of November’s election.

Trump’s planned visit to a church nestled in the heart of Detroit’s west side has received fierce pushback from local Democrats and the Biden campaign who argued Trump did little as president to improve Black communities nationwide.

Trump has denigrated Detroit in the past as “corrupt,” but both he and Biden have identified Michigan as a must-win state, and the vote there is expected to be as close or closer than it was four years ago.

Detroit, one of the nation’s largest Black-majority cities, will be pivotal in Michigan’s electoral outcome. While parts of the city have seen an economic resurgence, many neighborhoods continue to struggle with structural inequities and historic disinvestment. Experts say inflation and pocketbook issues are top of mind for voters.

Trump held a rally in a South Bronx neighborhood in New York last month, making a direct appeal to Black – as well as Hispanic – voters over cost-of-living and immigration issues.

The Trump campaign has long argued an opportunity exists with those voters, particularly men, who may be struggling economically. At his Bronx rally, Trump without evidence, argued that illegal migration disproportionately harms voters of color.

When Trump’s campaign reached out to Lorenzo Sewell, the pastor of 180 Church where the roundtable will he held, he first thought he was being pranked.

“I was thinking ‘Am I being punked?’” Sewell told Reuters.

But Sewell said he welcomed the opportunity. “That began to move my heart because people that are disenfranchised, pushed aside, and marginalized typically don’t have a voice at the table,” he said.

Levend Montgomery, a church elder who voted for Trump in 2020, said he related to the former president and his legal troubles, citing his encounter with the law in his early teens.

“There’s no perfect candidate. There’s no perfect party, but I resonate more with President Trump and what he’s trying to do for this country at this particular time in history,” Montgomery said.

Trump was convicted in New York last month on 34 felony counts of participating in a scheme to cover up his payment during the 2016 election to a porn star with whom he had an alleged affair. He also faces separate charges for interfering with the 2020 election and allegedly mishandling classified documents.

Trump was criticized in February when he asserted Black voters were more drawn to him after his multiple indictments on criminal charges. Trump’s complaints about victimization by prosecutors and courts land badly with many Black voters who say African Americans are those who suffer most from unfairness in the criminal justice system.

Sewell plans to discuss education, jobs, housing and transportation with Trump, and said his decision to host the event was not an endorsement.

“This isn’t about being for or against Trump or Biden,” he said. “It’s about being for our community and ensuring that our voices are heard.”

While some Black voters have expressed support for Trump, his efforts to galvanize them have been met with resistance.

Trump has made a series of inflammatory and racist statements throughout the years that have drawn heavy criticism. After the 2020 election, Trump called Detroit and Philadelphia “two of the most corrupt political places” in the country.

Last year, Trump urged supporters to “guard the vote” in cities including Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta — all Democratic strongholds with large Black populations.

Bishop Charles E. Ellis III, the pastor of Greater Grace Temple on Detroit’s west side and a prominent community leader, said Trump’s visit was “hypocritical.”

Ellis was present at a vote-counting center downtown in the hours after election day in November 2020 when Trump’s supporters attempted to halt the count, banging on doors and windows.

“You want to come and court my vote after you sent a mob after my vote?” Ellis said.


Black Americans have been credited with helping Biden secure the White House in 2020. Yet, recent polls have suggested some slippage of support among Black voters, who historically have been viewed as the Democratic Party’s most loyal voting bloc.

Trump’s Detroit visit is unlikely to lead to a notable shift in Black support, experts told Reuters. But the visit may appeal to centrist Republicans and independent voters, who’d like to see him build a broader coalition beyond his loyalists.

Among Black registered voters, Biden led Trump 57% to 12% in a Reuters/Ipsos poll in May, with 16% saying they aren’t sure who they will vote for, 8% saying some other candidate and 7% saying they won’t vote at all.

“The fact that he’s devoting resources to African Americans, the one constituency that is the least likely to vote for him, suggests that this is more about show than anything else,” said University of Michigan political science professor Vincent Hutchings.

The Trump campaign, however, argues it can win over some share of the Black vote over quality-of-life issues.

“President Trump’s outreach to minority voters is straightforward: he shows up, listens, and makes it clear that we’ll be better off with him as president, just like we were four years ago,” said Janiyah Thomas, the campaign’s Black media director.

The Biden campaign has been ramping up efforts in Michigan, where Biden defeated Trump by 2.7 percentage points in 2020.

Biden spoke at a NAACP dinner in Detroit last month, while Vice President Kamala Harris visited the state earlier this week.

“Donald Trump has spent his life and political career disrespecting Black Americans every chance he gets,” Biden campaign spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said. “President Biden is on the campaign trail showing up – consistently – to earn, and not ask for, Black Americans’ support. That is what leadership looks like.”

(Reporting by Bianca Flowers and James Oliphant; Jason Lange contributed to this report. Edited by Kat Stafford and Alistair Bell)

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