The 2020 presidential campaign played out Monday in opposite corners of Wisconsin, with the two sides emphasizing contrasting responses to a police shooting in Kenosha and the unrest that followed.
In Milwaukee, Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris talked by phone with Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot in the back by an officer on Aug. 23, and met with his family in person.
Across the state in La Crosse, Republican Vice President Mike Pence didn’t mention Blake’s name but stressed the need to put a stop to the kind of looting, arson and destruction that has occurred in Kenosha and elsewhere.
“Any incident involving the police use of force will be thoroughly investigated, but there is no excuse for the rioting and looting that we have seen in Kenosha and in cities across the country,” Pence told a crowd in the parking lot of Dairyland Power Cooperative.
“And this violence against civilians, against property and against law enforcement must stop and it must stop now.”
Harris, who made her first foray into a battleground state Monday since becoming Joe Biden’s running mate, said she wanted to express concern for Blake’s well-being and let family members know they have her support.
“I mean they’re an incredible family and what they’ve endured and they do it with such dignity and grace and you know they’re carrying the weight of a lot of voices on their shoulders,” Harris said about the meeting during a tour of an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Wauwatosa.
Harris met privately with Blake’s father, sisters and members of his legal team at Signature Flight Support near Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Both Harris and Biden have said that Officer Rusten Sheskey should be charged in the shooting that left Blake paralyzed.
Many details about the incident remain unknown.
Attorney General Josh Kaul has said a knife was found on the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s vehicle after the shooting, but Kaul has not said whether officers knew about the knife before Sheskey shot him. An attorney for the Kenosha police union has said Blake was holding a knife and officers followed protocol in escalating force. Blake’s family and attorneys have disputed that account.
Visits underscore Wisconsin’s key role
Monday’s political visits reminded voters that both campaigns view Wisconsin as an all-important state. Their stops came less than a week after President Donald Trump and Biden visited Kenosha.
Like Harris, Biden met with the Blake family. Trump toured buildings that were destroyed and championed the response of law enforcement.
Pence and Harris’ stops contrasted in numerous ways. Pence, who appeared with Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Oshkosh, used his Labor Day speech to cheer on America’s workforce and promise that the economy would soon rebound.
In addition to the tour of the union training facility, Harris met with Black business leaders. She noted how the people trained by the union were doing essential electrical work during the coronavirus pandemic. She asked instructors at the training facility how they were navigating the pandemic and enforcing social distancing in the labs.
Even the manner in which they campaigned differed. At Pence’s event, people sat close to one another and few wore masks. At Harris’, attendance was limited, masks were required and people were kept 6 feet apart from one another to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Pence used his stop to promote the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement this year. He noted Harris, a senator from California, voted against it.
“I heard that Joe Biden’s running mate is in Milwaukee today,” he said. “But dairy farmers in Wisconsin deserve to know that Sen. Kamala Harris is one of only 10 senators to vote against the USMCA. She said it didn’t go far enough on climate change.
“‘Now, here at Dairyland Power, you deserve to know Sen. Harris put their radical environmental agenda ahead of Wisconsin dairy and ahead of Wisconsin power. But under President Donald Trump we will always put Wisconsin farmers, Wisconsin businesses and Wisconsin families first.”
Harris focused on entrepreneurship, meeting with Black leaders in Milwaukee including Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and JoAnne Sabir, who co-founded the Sherman Phoenix business hub for Black entrepreneurs. Harris said she wanted entrepreneurs in Milwaukee and across the country to know that investing in entrepreneurship and access to capital are priorities of the campaign.
“This is about an investment in not only in those specific communities but in our country, understanding that some of the greatest sources of wealth and intergenerational wealth come about through that kind of focus,” she said. Harris summarized her trip as about the dignity of work and dignity of human beings.
Trump and Pence have been frequent visitors to Wisconsin. In addition to Trump’s stop in Kenosha last week, he and Pence made separate stops in Wisconsin last month as Democrats held a mostly virtual national convention that was produced in Milwaukee. Biden and Harris gave their convention speeches from Delaware, and Trump and Pence came to Wisconsin to highlight their willingness to campaign in person.
Biden, Harris and other Democrats stayed away from Milwaukee during the convention to avoid the spread of COVID-19 but in the last week have put campaigning in Wisconsin at the top of their strategy. Harris’ trip to Milwaukee came four days after Biden was in Kenosha.
Democrats won Wisconsin in every presidential election from 1988 to 2012 but lost it in 2016 by about 22,000 votes out of nearly 3 million votes cast.
In 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton didn’t visit Wisconsin after clinching the nomination. Democrats vowed not to make that mistake again and both sides see the state as essential this year.
Patrick Marley reported from La Crosse and Sarah Hauer reported from Miwaukee.
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