With visits from both the president and vice president this week, the political battleground state of Wisconsin is back in the spotlight. President Trump is touching down in Wisconsin for the second time this year, where he's slated to tour the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard, which was recently awarded a $800 million contract with the U.S. Navy to develop a new missile frigate.
"This is one of the greatest things that could ever happen to northern Wisconsin. To have the actual president of the United States visit the city Marinette for the first time ever — it's history," said political veteran Shirley Kaufman, who served as head of the Marinette County Republican Party for nine terms before stepping down two years ago.
But if the president's visit is one of the best things to happen to northern Wisconsin, the economic toll taken by the coronavirus was one of the worst. Green Bay's 13.8% unemployment rate in April surpassed its peak job loss during the Great Recession, which never reached double digits. And while Wisconsin's unemployment rate fell from 13.6% in April to 12% in May, a state forecast says it could take two years to return to pre-COVID levels of employment.
About two hundred miles southwest, demonstrations raged into the night Tuesday outside Madison's state capitol as protesters smashed in statehouse windows, attacked a state senator and. Since the death of in police custody, both cities and protesters have been taking down confederate statues nationwide. But during the protests Tuesday, a century-old memorial dedicated to a Wisconsin abolitionist who died trying to end slavery during the Civil War was haphazardly thrown into a nearby lake.
A new Marquette University Law School poll released on Wednesday reveals a majority of registered voters in the poll disapprove of Trump's handling of nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd in police custody (58%), his handling of the coronavirus pandemic (52%) and his job performance overall (51%).The survey shows presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading Mr. Trump in the state 49% to 41%, a jump from his three-point lead last month.
Wisconsin Republican party executive director Mark Jefferson said he thinks public opinion on the protests will shift, citing "violence" and "destruction" at some demonstrations. He accused Democrats and police of "backing off" in Madison Tuesday night and "letting that happen."
The Trump campaign and its largest super PAC — America First Action — have poured nearly $5 million into the state alone since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Biden has invested just over $600,000, but Priorities USA and American Bridge, two Democratic super PACs, have spent more than $6.5 million.
Jefferson said the president can still appeal to anti-establishment voters, while also running on conservative accomplishments like his judicial appointments and the 2017 tax cuts. The Marquette poll showed 50% approve of Trump's handling of the economy.
Statewide, eviction filings reportedly spiked 42% statewide in the first two weeks of June, following a May 27 expiration of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers' ban on evictions. Northeastern Wisconsin residents can still list the retail stores that closed down last year, before the virus hit — the Shopko in Oconto and the Younkers in Marinette.
Last month, a Green Bay meatpacking plant that closed for more than a week due to a COVID-19 outbreak was forced to reopen its slaughter operations after Mr. Trump issued an executive order requiring beef, pork and poultry facilities back into operation during the pandemic.
Nine miles from the JBS beef plant, Mr. Trump will be sitting down for a Fox News town hall, Thursday. While the president won the Green Bay market by 17 points in 2016, a polling analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows the president's margin has dipped to a nine-point lead.
Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 23,000 votes with a message attacking longstanding trade deals and promises to revive manufacturing. But since that victory, Democrats swept statewide races during the 2018 midterms and in April a liberal judge defeated Trump-endorsed conservative justice Daniel Kelly in a state supreme court race.
"I think the Trump campaign is desperate to recover from an ongoing implosion," Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said. "The challenge that the Trump team faces is that coming to Wisconsin just reminds people about how badly they've mismanaged the COVID crisis and the economy, even before the COVID crisis."
On Tuesday, Pence visited a historic GOP stronghold in the Milwaukee suburbs to kick off a "Faith in America" tour. Pence told a socially-distanced crowd "the silent majority can be silent no more," and claimed Biden wants to "get back to the old days of economic surrender to China."
Biden, for his part, has done some virtual campaigning in the state, including a brief taped appearance at the Wisconsin Democrats' virtual convention earlier this month. His campaign announced the addition of four senior staffers on Wednesday, a sign that it's ramping up operations in the key battleground state.
The Biden headquarters will be in Milwaukee, which is also hosting the party's national convention. On Wednesday, party officials announced that the event will be scaled back due to the coronavirus, although Biden intends to accept the party's nomination in Milwaukee.
Though Kaufman is excited about Mr. Trump's visit Thursday, she won't be attending his event because of its "close proximity" — that is, the lack of social distancing expected — and a pre-existing lung condition that puts her at risk. While she's no fan of the president's Twitter account, the longtime GOP local leader vows she'll "work like the dickens" to get him re-elected. "I would like to rein him in if I could," she conceded. "I don't know if his wife can rein him in. But I'd advise him not to be so harsh."