MILWAUKEE (CN) — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden spoke before a small crowd of supporters at a Milwaukee airport hangar Friday evening, blasting the fatal flaws of President Donald Trump’s White House tenure and promising an optimistic return to America’s true character as the 2020 campaign enters the home stretch.
Friday was the first time Biden campaigned in the Badger State in person since September when he visited a foundry in Manitowoc, a town 40 miles south of Green Bay in a politically purple region of northeastern Wisconsin both Biden and Trump covet in their fight for the state’s modest but critical 10 electoral votes.
Biden’s wife, Jill, and his running mate Kamala Harris both came to Wisconsin in September to make the case for his presidency. Both also recently did virtual events in conjunction with top Badger State Democrats, between them getting support from the likes of U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Trump, for his part, rallied supporters in Michigan as well as in Green Bay earlier Friday, which came on the heels of another rally his campaign held in the western Wisconsin village of West Salem on Tuesday.
Both candidates touched down in Wisconsin and Minnesota on Friday, with Trump taking his detour to Michigan while Biden hit a drive-in event in Iowa, last-ditch barnstorm tactics highlighting the pivotal nature of the Midwest proving grounds.
There is disagreement among recent polls over Biden’s chances in Wisconsin, including between two released on Wednesday.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll gave Biden a whopping 57%-40% lead among likely voters in Wisconsin, a slight uptick from a previous poll the same outlets put out in September.
But a Marquette University Law School poll released later that same day showed Biden with a much thinner 48%-43% advantage among likely voters in the state, a difference which barely exceeded the poll’s roughly 4.5-margin of error and reflects a largely dead heat between the two candidates Marquette polls have shown all year.
The Marquette poll from Wednesday also reported that 95% of likely Biden voters and 93% of likely Trump voters have already made up their mind on their candidate.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission reported Friday that more than 1.7 million Wisconsinites have already voted absentee, almost 60% of the state’s total 2016 turnout. It remains to be seen what kind of sway last-minute rallies are going to curry for either candidate with stray voters since so many have already made their decision.
But with Election Day only four days away, Biden’s Friday event came at make-or-break time for the former vice president, whose party still harbors serious regrets for ignoring Wisconsin during the 2016 presidential campaign, which resulted in Trump taking the state by less than 23,000 votes.
Although Biden has visited Wisconsin more than Hillary Clinton did, that’s a low bar considering she did not visit the state once on the campaign trail, something Biden acknowledged with regret on Friday.
Trump has been aggressively stumping in Wisconsin as of late, holding three separate rallies in the past week — equal to the number of visits Biden has made to the state all year.
The first of Biden’s trips to the Badger State was during a period of violent unrest in Kenosha over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer.
Both Biden and Trump visited Kenosha amid the demonstrations, but their optics and tones could not have been more different. The president toured scorched businesses and heaped praise on law enforcement for quelling the protests during a roundtable event; Biden held a town hall focused on hope at a local church after meeting with Blake’s family.
A small socially distanced crowd at a private hangar at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport welcomed a masked Biden on Friday, who took the podium after remarks from Moore and two Black Milwaukee natives urging voters to choose to move forward toward a more positive future under a Biden presidency.
The former vice president encouraged the crowd to “keep our sense of empowerment here, our sense of optimism” in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which as of Friday had resulted in more than 229,000 deaths in the United States from nearly 9 million confirmed cases.
Biden quickly made reference to Wisconsin’s recent surge, which necessitated the opening of a field hospital just south of Milwaukee for an expected overflow of patients from the state’s overwhelmed hospitals.
“The thing that bothers me the most is that we have a president who gave up,” on handling the pandemic, Biden said, going on to mock Trump’s repeated insistence that America was rounding the corner on Covid-19 and his foolhardy dismissal of mitigation strategies like mask wearing.
“This isn’t a political statement, us wearing these masks,” Biden said. “For God’s sake, it’s a patriotic duty,” which is necessary to save lives.
Biden touched on his economic and tax plans, which he promised would not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 annually and would bring an end to an inequitable system where massive corporations do not pay their fair share in taxes.
Of his health care plan, Biden reiterated his goal of expanding and building on the Affordable Care Act, the signature piece of legislation passed during his time as right hand man to Barack Obama, which would include a public option while allowing Americans to keep their private insurance should they want to.
“Donald Trump thinks health care is a privilege, I think it’s a right,” Biden said, promising that health care costs would go down as much as 60% under his presidency, in part because his plan would allow Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.
The Democratic candidate emphasized how Trump’s trade policies have devastated struggling Wisconsin dairy farms that have been further burdened by the coronavirus pandemic, yet he was light on details as to how he would turn around the state’s flagship industry leading the nation in farm foreclosures.
In stark contrast to the president, Biden directly addressed the existential crisis of climate change during his roughly 30-minute remarks, saying that “we have to vote to meet the challenge of the climate crisis” because “literally, the planet is at stake.”
An added bonus of seriously tackling climate change, Biden said, would be the millions of good-paying jobs that would be created through that effort.
Ending his speech on a note of unity and earnest bipartisan cooperation, Biden proclaimed “I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will be an American president.”
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is,” Biden said. “Let’s let him know who we are in these last four days.”