Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s trip to Kenosha on Thursday was a study in contrasts to President Donald Trump’s visit to the same beleaguered city two days earlier.
Here are five takeaways from Biden’s first foray to Wisconsin this year:
Tale of two trips
The Biden visit was worlds apart – in substance and style – from Trump’s visit. Biden wore a mask while he spoke. Trump did not. Biden spoke by phone with Jacob Blake, the Black man who was shot seven times by a white Kenosha police officer, and met with Blake’s family. Trump did not. Law enforcement was a central presence and theme of Trump’s visit, but not Biden’s.
“Systemic racism” was treated as a given at Biden’s discussion in a Kenosha church. “Let’s be real,” he said. Trump rejected the idea of “systemic racism” at his own Kenosha roundtable. Trump spent a lot of time decrying violent unrest and rioting and looting. Biden spent a lot of time discussing inequality and racism and heard impassioned appeals from Black residents about the way African Americans are treated by the criminal justice system.
Trump’s visit came with the trappings of the presidency, including Cabinet members and declarations of aid. While he spent a lot of time listening Thursday, Biden came to Wisconsin as a presidential candidate waging a campaign against the incumbent.
A very late campaign debut
Who would have guessed the Democratic nominee’s first campaign trip to Wisconsin in 2020 would come not before or during the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, but weeks afterward? And that it would be not in Milwaukee or Madison or Green Bay or La Crosse, but the small Democratic city of Kenosha that sits in the shadow of both Milwaukee and Chicago?
Biden takes aim at Trump
So far, Biden has largely campaigned from his home state of Delaware, and in neighboring Pennsylvania.
Biden’s Thursday trip was not only about Kenosha. As his first major general election foray to another region of the country since the pandemic, it was about his broader campaign case against Trump.
Biden portrayed the president as dividing the country, legitimizing hatred and extremism and mishandling the pandemic. He called Trump’s rhetoric “immoral.” While delivered in a quiet tone behind a masked face, the words were slashing.
Joe Biden is Kenosha says that he can't lay out all his plans in more detail because if he goes on any longer "they'll shoot me." pic.twitter.com/N33k3wyuJl
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) September 3, 2020
Republicans see hypocrisy
The Biden visit drew fire from Wisconsin Republicans who accused Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of treating the Trump and Biden visits differently and questioned why it was OK for Biden to come to Kenosha during the pandemic but not to Milwaukee for the Democratic National Convention.
“It’s completely hypocritical for Evers and all the other Democrats to say (Trump) shouldn’t be here and now it’s OK” for Biden, said former GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
“Why come now when it was too dangerous evidently to come two weeks ago?” said state GOP chair Andrew Hitt, referring to the Democratic convention.
Evers wrote an open letter to Trump asking him to stay away. But his communications with the Biden campaign about its Kenosha visit were private. Evers suggested to reporters Thursday that he didn’t approve of the Biden visit either. The governor said he “made my position clear” with the Biden campaign and “candidates can make their decisions” but “I would prefer that no one be here.”
Despite that, Evers later took to Twitter to praise the substance of Biden’s visit as a “stark contrast” to Trump’s.
Political wind at his back?
Biden arrived in Wisconsin on a wave of mostly encouraging national polling and one positive Wisconsin poll. Overall, the polls suggested his lead over Trump has held up through the party conventions and the uproar over the shooting and unrest in Kenosha.
In national polling, Biden’s average margin over Trump is around 7 or 8 points, which is right about where it was a month ago.
Meanwhile, Biden led Trump by 8 points in a new Fox News poll of likely voters in Wisconsin. In that poll, Biden had a slight edge over Trump when it came to which candidate voters trust more to do a better job on policing and criminal justice, an issue Trump has put at the center of his “law and order” message.
A tracking poll by Morning Consult in Wisconsin has Biden leading by 10 points here.
Polls can change. Trump won Wisconsin four years ago after trailing in most polls. Both sides will be watching closely when the state’s most frequent poll, done by the Marquette Law School, releases its next poll Wednesday.
But these latest surveys are good news for Democrats nervous about the political fallout from Kenosha, nervous about Biden’s lack of travel, and nervous about whether Trump was getting a convention bounce. The most unsettling news for Republicans in these polls is how stable Biden’s has been during major political events, the pandemic, and the controversies over race, policing and protests.
Biden put his own spin on the polls while he was in Kenosha, saying it showed that the debate over policing and protests wasn’t boosting Trump’s “law and order” message.
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