The year 2020 is anything but normal.
But one thing that seemed normal on the recent Labor Day weekend: top national candidates visiting the Badger State to kick off the traditional campaign season.
Labor Day saw visits to Wisconsin by both Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
Pence was in La Crosse, and Harris was in Milwaukee. The visits got a lot of national attention and again focused the importance of Wisconsin in this year’s presidential race.
Most pundits say that in order for Donald Trump to repeat, he has to again win Wisconsin. But post-convention polls showed Trump trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The NBC political team has Wisconsin as “lean Democrat” in the Electoral College count.
Pence made a pitch to farmers and workers while Harris spoke of the challenges facing minority- and female-owned businesses as the two stumped on opposite sides of Wisconsin this Labor Day.
Speaking at Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse, Pence repeatedly praised Trump, including his work to replace NAFTA. In doing so, he took a swipe at Harris, who was one of 10 senators who voted against the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement the Trump administration negotiated.
Pence called the deal a win for Wisconsin workers and farmers.
“Here at Dairyland Power, you deserve to know Sen. Harris put their radical environmental agenda ahead of Wisconsin dairy and ahead of Wisconsin power,” Pence said. “But under President Donald Trump, we will always put Wisconsin farmers, Wisconsin businesses and Wisconsin families first.”
Harris, D-Calif., had two events in the Milwaukee area, the first a tour of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Wauwatosa to speak with union members and Wisconsin labor leaders. As part of that stop, she touted three labs as instructors explained what was taught in each classroom.
Harris then attended a roundtable with Black Milwaukee business leaders later in the afternoon to discuss advancing racial equality as part of a Biden-Harris administration’s recovery plan. She told reporters following the roundtable that the conversation included the need to invest in “healthy communities because healthy communities are safe communities.”
She also ticked off a series of challenges facing minority- and women-owned businesses as she said a Biden administration would invest in community banks and opportunity zones while helping boost an entrepreneurial class.
She said the vast majority of small businesses owned by women and minorities didn’t benefit from the Paycheck Protection Program.
“Unlike how Donald Trump has been concerned about the wealthy, the people who are working every day and trying to raise their families don’t have the access to those kinds of relationships and have not received the benefit of something like the PPP.”
It was Harris’ first stop in Wisconsin as part of the Democratic ticket. She was last in the state for a political event in November, when she attended a fundraiser for her presidential campaign before dropping out of the race in December.
Harris largely ignored questions from reporters other than noting she lived in Wisconsin as a girl. After the roundtable, Harris shouted to supporters who were waiting outside to vote early, noting “I need your help, Milwaukee.”
The regions the two campaigns stopped in are both key to their hopes of winning Wisconsin this fall. Trump won western Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District by 4.5 percentage points four years ago, though Democratic Gov. Tony Evers narrowly won it in 2018.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton underperformed across Wisconsin in 2016 compared to Barack Obama, though much of the national attention was on her poor numbers out of Milwaukee County.
Pence’s speech was a combination of reminding the crowd how the economy was performing before the pandemic struck and the administration’s efforts to get the country back on its feet while also taking a shot at Biden over violent protests.
Trump visited Kenosha after violent riots broke out in response to a police officer shooting a Black man in the back seven times. Like Trump did during his visit to Kenosha, Pence slammed rioting and looting, saying they must stop now.
He said Trump sent 200 federal law enforcement officers to Kenosha to work with the National Guard to quell the violent protests, while saying it took Biden three months to speak up. Even then, Pence added, Biden criticized law enforcement and said there’s systemic racism in the U.S., including bias in police forces.
“The people here in Wisconsin know Joe Biden would double down on policies that literally led to violence,” said Pence, who made his seventh visit to Wisconsin of 2020.
After landing in Milwaukee, Harris had a private meeting with the family of the man who was shot by Kenosha police.
According to the pool report, she met at the airport in person with Jacob Blake’s father and two sisters, as well as members of his legal team. Meanwhile, his mother participated in the meeting by phone.
Blake’s legal team called it “an inspirational and uplifting one-hour visit” in which Harris talked about policy changes she and Biden plan to seek. That includes implicit bias training.
During her tour of the IBEW facility, Harris said her message was “to express concern for their well-being and of course, for their brother and their son’s well being and to let them know that they have support.”
Biden also met with Blake’s family while he was in Kenosha, just after Trump.
Trump declined to meet with them, saying the family wanted its legal team to monitor the conversation.
The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff at WisPolitics.com, a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.