Donald Trump and Joe Biden came to different corners of Wisconsin Friday, but they may as well have been in different worlds.
The Republican president brought thousands of people together in Green Bay, where he contended the Democratic nominee would endanger the economy. Biden, wearing a mask and speaking to a small socially distanced crowd, ripped into Trump in Milwaukee, saying he had neglected his obligation to shield the country from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Donald Trump waved the white flag, surrendered to the virus,” Biden said in a Mitchell International Airport hangar. “Unlike Donald Trump, we’re not going to surrender to this virus.”
Trump, at Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport, countered: “Biden will deliver poverty, misery, depression. I will deliver jobs, jobs, jobs.”
For the first time in a campaign upended by the coronavirus pandemic, it really felt like battleground Wisconsin, with both candidates in the state just hours apart from one another.
Biden said the president had been unwilling to take on a virus that has killed nearly 230,000 Americans, noting Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, last weekend said, “We are not going to control the pandemic.”
“The thing that bothers me the most was the president who gave up,” Biden said.
He argued Trump had hurt the state’s economy with trade wars, saying he had “devastated the Wisconsin dairy industry” and caused mass layoffs.
“Harley-Davidson slashed 800 manufacturing jobs, repurchased stock … and then shifted some of its production overseas. So much for helping,” Biden said, referring to the Milwaukee motorcycle company.”
But Trump argued it was Biden who had caused workers to suffer during his decades as a politician.
“At every turn, Biden betrayed American workers and twisted his knife into the back of Wisconsin workers,” Trump said. “You suffered as much as anybody.”
Trump criticized recent polls that show him trailing Biden in Wisconsin, saying he has held successful campaign rallies and declared: “It’s called suppression polls. You know what it does? It suppresses the vote.”
Trump thanked former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre for his endorsement and said the Hall of Famer was “tough as hell.”
Since mid-October, Trump has mounted a furious bid to reclaim Wisconsin’s electoral votes, making stops in Janesville, Waukesha and West Salem, drawing large, enthusiastic crowds, similar to what happened four years ago when he came from behind in the polls to defeat Hillary Clinton.
He’ll return to Wisconsin Monday night with a rally at Kenosha Regional Airport.
Biden, making his third trip to Wisconsin, last appeared in the state in September, visiting a foundry in Manitowoc.
Democrats have vowed not to repeat the mistake Clinton made of not visiting the state during the 2016 general election. Biden made a reference to that promise as he gave a shout-out to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
“Tom remembers I came up here and campaigned for Hillary and for a whole lot of reasons, not all of which were her fault, ended up not taking it as seriously,” Biden said. “We thought it was different. Now I’ve been here a lot and by the way when I get elected, if I get elected, I’m coming back, Tom.”
The Milwaukee visit was Biden’s third stop of the day, after drive-in rallies in Des Moines, Iowa, and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Last week, Trump sought to hold a large rally at Mitchell Airport but was turned down by airport authorities. They said the event would have run counter to the city’s 250-person limit on outdoor gatherings, which is in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, and would also have affected flights in and out of the facility.
“The Airport does not allow political rallies on the airfield, regardless of which candidate requests it,” airport spokesman Harold Mester said in a statement that noted Biden’s event was far smaller than the one Trump had planned.
Biden’s event adhered to the city’s health restrictions, with about 50 people, including journalists, in attendance. A maximum of 100 people are able to gather for religious and political events and must be seated, according to the city Health Department.
The visits came as polls show Biden with an advantage in Wisconsin. Biden held a 5-point lead in this week’s Marquette University Law School Poll, while two other surveys showed the former vice president further ahead in the race.
Early in-person absentee voting is also winding down across the state with some larger communities allowing voting until Sunday while others are ending sooner.
Already, 1.74 million people have voted by mail or in-person, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, about 58% of the 2016 turnout.
The two candidates have taken two very different approaches to campaigning in the middle of the pandemic. And they were in a state where cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been spiking.
Trump has continued to hold large rallies across the country, appearing in front of thousands of mostly unmasked supporters.
Biden has appeared at far smaller events, where social distancing and mask-wearing are mandatory.