Pro-Trump group hunts for 'hidden' supporters

The largest outside group supporting President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE’s reelection believes it’s identified some of the “hidden” supporters that could tip the balance of the 2020 election in favor of Republicans.

Pollsters hired by America First Policies (AFP) have spent the past two months interviewing hundreds of self-described independent voters at focus groups conducted in major cities across nine battleground states.

A source close to the group shared videos of the interviews with The Hill, which featured Trump voters from 2016 revealing that they would not discuss their support for the president with pollsters or acquaintances because they were afraid of backlash from the media and their friends or family.

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Trump's allies say they were mocked in 2016 when they claimed the president’s support in the polls was being underestimated because a large contingent of silent Trump backers were ashamed or scared to reveal their political leanings to pollsters.

The officials believe these same voters need only a gentle prodding from like-minded friends and outreach from the campaign to turn out for Trump again in 2020.

“The campaign last cycle was ridiculed about this but it’s still happening,” the official said.

“It shouldn’t be this way but it is this way and especially among women, it’s like, we want to get along with our neighbor, our kids go to the same school, and we’re not going to start talking about politics, especially in this age when it comes up and it’s explosive. There’s a reluctance to get into it, but you know, we’ll go to the ballot box and we’ll vote for the guy, but we’re also not going to pick up a phone and do a poll.”

The national polls in 2016 were fairly accurate, showing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' MORE with a narrow edge. She ended up outpacing Trump by about 2 points in the national popular vote.

But battleground state polling was a mixed bag and few analysts believed Trump had a realistic path to the White House.

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In the end, Trump effectively ran the board in the contested swing states. He also turned Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania blue for the first time in decades on the strength of his support from white working-class voters, who largely flew under the radar of campaign operatives and the political press.

Trump organizers believe there could be a replay of this outcome in 2020, as voters who don’t fit into traditional turnout models, or have much of a platform, go quietly to the polls on Election Day to cast ballots for Trump.

In one AFP panel of 12 women in Arizona, a woman explained that she voted for Trump but would never put the president’s bumper sticker on her car “because I’m not stupid.”

“I don’t want to get my car scratched, people are so crazy,” the woman said. ”I don’t want to advertise it because people will target me. But I won’t deny it if people ask me.”

A second woman in Arizona, who described herself as a right-leaning independent, said the frenzy of opposition was a problem for former President Obama, but that the hysteria has gone “off the charts with Trump.”

“The volume is so high right now that it’s scary and you have to be very careful who you disclose your political views to,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

AFP has conducted a total of 36 focus groups of about a dozen people each in Des Moines, Iowa; Orlando, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Phoenix; Miami; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; and Pittsburgh.

The panels are conducted by Republican pollsters Adam Geller, of National Research Inc., and Wes Anderson, of OnMessage.

The focus groups have revealed a few problem spots for the president.

Many voters are turned off by Trump’s rhetoric, name-calling, bullying and tweets.

There is growing concern that Trump's personality could be an anchor on his reelection campaign, particularly among suburban women, who are increasingly apt to support Democrats.

That phenomenon has created new battlegrounds in states such as Georgia, where the booming Atlanta suburbs threaten to turn a traditionally red state blue.

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“We don’t want Georgia to be our Michigan,” the source close to AFP said. “We’ve got to lock it up.”

Still, the pro-Trump operatives say they’re winning on substance, insisting that the panels reveal that Democrats are signing their own death warrants by lurching leftward on immigration, energy policy and health care in Rust Belt states where "Medicare for all," the Green New Deal, college debt forgiveness and dovish immigration policies are unpopular.

And the Trump campaign and outside groups have gotten an early jump on identifying new potential voters, including a cohort they say did not vote for either party in 2016.

The AFP official said they’ve been surprised by the number of Democrats and unregistered voters who have attended Trump rallies. The campaign has put an emphasis on collecting emails and phone numbers from these people and will be working them constantly between now and Election Day.

To counter the Democratic advantage in the suburbs, the official said pro-Trump organizers are looking to grow their support by turning out more voters in rural areas.

“Can we get more of the rural vote to turn out to go against the blue-ing of the suburbs? Yes, there’s a lot more,” the official said. “We’re going into the swampland in Florida to get these people out. It’s harder than going to an apartment building in Orlando, but there are more votes there.”

The official also said they’ve made inroads with Hispanic voters, who are reluctant to support Trump publicly but are culturally conservative and surprisingly supportive of Trump’s immigration plans.

The official said that focus groups have revealed that many Hispanics have friends or family who went through legal immigration process and feel that the Democrats are giving a free pass to those looking for a shortcut.

“We asked a Hispanic member of the panel in Arizona if he knew any hidden Trump voters and he started laughing and pointing around the table,” the official said. “He said we’re all Hispanic men in our 30s, and based on what I’m hearing, I guess we’re the hidden Trump voters.”