‘I won’t forget you’: Trump rallies Wisconsin crowd with Oshkosh event targeting Biden nomination, DNC

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Trump made the Wisconsin stop on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

OSHKOSH – Hours before Democrats convened their virtual convention in Milwaukee, President Donald Trump swooped into Oshkosh Monday to counter the nomination of Joe Biden in a state that could decide the presidency. 

He arrived at an Oshkosh airfield Monday afternoon, after a stop in Minnesota, with an urgent pitch before a crowd of up to 1,000 or more.

He declared the stock market and the nation’s economy — hammered by the coronavirus pandemic — would rebound if he is reelected to heights met under his first term before the virus struck.

But he also braced the crowd for a potential loss — albeit by raising the false specter of widespread election fraud. 

“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump said, echoing a similar forecast he made during the 2016 race.

Full recap:Trump rally in Oshkosh

PolitiFact Wisconsin:Fact-checking President Trump in Oshkosh

Trump has trailed Biden in Wisconsin and seen his disapproval grow among voters here in the wake of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

He narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, which — along with Michigan and Pennsylvania — helped secure him the presidency. 

“I won’t forget you — just like you didn’t forget me in 2016,” Trump said in front of an airplane hangar owned by Basler Air Service at Wittman Regional Airport. 

“This has been an incredible experience getting to know you,” he said. “I’ve been here a lot … we’ve been good for each other.

“We have to win the election. We can’t play games.”

People cheer as President Donald Trumps speaks at a campaign event Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Trump made the Wisconsin stop on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

At the rally, Trump again suggested without evidence that China inflicted the coronavirus on Americans intentionally.  

“It might have been a mistake — it might have been on purpose,” he said. “Who knows?”

Democratic National Committee Secretary Jason Rae called Trump’s visit a “photo op.”

“Instead of putting the well being and safety of Wisconsinites first, Donald Trump is once again focused on his own gain,” he said. 

Trump on Monday also said he plans to overhaul the U.S. Postal Service to prevent voter fraud after he previously acknowledged he opposed emergency funding for the Post Office, suggesting that withholding the money would starve the agency of resources it needs to process an anticipated surge in absentee ballots in the fall.

Trump’s Wisconsin stop was one of four he is making this week to states he can’t take for granted in November. Before Oshkosh he was in Mankato, Minnesota. Later this week, he will visit Yuma, Arizona, and Biden’s home town of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The visits are designed to blunt momentum for Biden from the Democratic National Convention, which is anchored this week in Milwaukee.

► Find full coverage of the 2020 Democratic National Convention in our special section.

Trump wants voters to see him in person — to remind them that Biden won’t accept the nomination in Milwaukee. But the rallies also underscore a message Democrats hope voters absorb — the contrast between their mostly remote convention structured around safety and Trump’s barnstorming during the pandemic. 

Ahead of Trump’s visit, Democrats launched a cable TV ad calling the president’s rally in Wisconsin a political stunt that’s putting human lives at risk — highlighting a Tulsa rally in June that has been tied to a spike of infections and the death of former presidential candidate Herman Cain.

Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, launched digital billboards in Milwaukee mocking Biden for not appearing in person at the Democrats’ convention. “Where’s Joe?” the billboards ask.

People wait in the sun about two and half hours before President Trump is scheduled to speak at a campaign event Monday, August 17, 2020 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis.

Trump said he would accept the Republication nomination for his reelection bid in a live speech at the White House next week and poked fun at taped speeches being played during the Democrats’ convention.

The Oshkosh rally drew hundreds, if not more than 1,000 attendees — with many wearing face masks, but not all. There was little or no distance between seats. Most of those in attendance were outside, where the state’s mask mandate does not apply, though some were seated in an open airplane hangar.

Trump poked fun at Gov. Tony Evers’ rules and recommendations to limit social interaction and large gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and the lack of criticism of large protests in June and July despite the pandemic. 

“We’ll call it a peaceful protest, so we can do whatever we want,” Trump said. 

A close contest

The jibs and jabs come as Democrats and Republicans scrap over Wisconsin, a state that Trump narrowly won in 2016 and one that neither can afford to lose in November. 

A small crowd, including former Gov. Scott Walker, mingles ahead of President Donald Trump's arrival in Oshkosh, Wis., on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

Recent polling by the Marquette University Law School shows the presumptive Democratic nominee leading Trump, 49% to 44%, among likely voters in the fall. Among registered voters, Biden has a 6-point lead, poll director Charles Franklin said.

“Certainly, anybody who takes this race for granted is asking to have an unpleasant surprise,” Franklin said.

James Reed of Fond du Lac, who was waiting in line to enter the rally at around 2 p.m., said he’s backing Trump in the fall because of the president’s views on trade, policing and abortion.

Meanwhile, outside the airport as the rally wound down after about an hour, protesters and counterprotesters met.

As protesters from Latino advocacy group Voces de la Frontera and other groups tried to speak, the counterprotesters chanted, “Four more years.” A small group of people started their motorcycles in an effort to drown out the chants.

The protesters called for action on climate change, Medicare-for-all plans, and an end to racism.

On Tuesday, Trump’s son, Eric, will appear in Milwaukee, and on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence will visit Darien.

The Democratic convention will feature prominent speakers such as former President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama and former GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich. 

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Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.