WAUKESHA – President Donald Trump is looking to create “Wisconsin: The Sequel.”
Four years ago, he was down in the polls to Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin but kept returning to crack a key state in the Democrats’ vaunted blue wall and claim the White House.
Now, in the closing days of the 2020 campaign, Trump finds himself trailing former Vice President Joe Biden in state polls, including a 5-point deficit in the most recent Marquette University Law School survey.
And once again, the president is visiting the state again and again, going all-in on another Wisconsin surprise.
“The election is a choice between a Trump super recovery and a Biden depression,” Trump told thousands of supporters gathered Saturday night at Waukesha County Airport.
Trump quickly launched into attacks on Biden as the crowd chanted “Lock him up.” He reminded the crowd of Biden’s comments during Thursday’s debate on his desire to move away from the oil industry.
“He’s against oil,” Trump said. “He’s against oil, guns and God.”
And he gave an optimistic view of his standing in the battleground states of Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Downplaying the effects of the coronavirus, he told the crowd: “Here I am!” — a reference to overcoming COVID-19. “Here I am in Wisconsin.”
He again said the coronavirus pandemic is “going away” and “rounding the turn,” and he claimed deaths are high in the U.S. because they are being recorded as COVID-19 deaths even if someone with the virus died of something else, like a heart attack.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations actually are accelerating. And Wisconsin health officials said the president’s description of how COVID-19 deaths are recorded is not true.
Saturday’s rally marked the president’s second visit to the state in eight days. And it came as he focused on the electoral battlegrounds, casting his ballot in West Palm Beach, Florida, and visiting North Carolina and Ohio.
He’ll return to Wisconsin at least once more before Nov. 3, with a Tuesday rally planned for West Salem — an area of the state that has faced some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections in recent weeks.
“I’d imagine that over the course of the next 10 days you might see him in Wisconsin a number of times,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told reporters Saturday.
“The president’s rally is absolutely the best weapon that this campaign has because our best asset is the candidate,” Murtaugh said.
But for all his efforts to follow the game plan he used four years ago, the president’s efforts take place in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, a hurdle he didn’t have last time.
Trump is holding rallies in Wisconsin, drawing thousands of people, at a time when more than 4,000 people are testing positive for COVID-19 per day. Nearly 50 people died in a single day this week and hospitalizations are at a record high.
By contrast, the Biden campaign has held small, socially distant events.
“I think the Democrats and some parts of the media like to tell themselves that the rally is strictly to fire up the base and energize people who are already supporting the president, and it does do that,” Murtaugh said.
But Murtaugh insisted the rallies “attract new people,” and that on average “about a quarter of the people who sign up for the rallies are not Republican.”
Murtaugh said data collected from those who signed up for the Oct. 17 rally in Janesville showed 47.5% were not “modeled as Republicans” and 24% “did not vote at all in 2016.”
“The media and the Democrats can scoff at the rally if they want to and think the president is strictly running a base election,” he said. “We know through data that is absolutely untrue. The president is expanding his support.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, who like Trump was down in the polls in 2016 but came back to defeat Democrat Russ Feingold, said there is even greater support for the president in 2020.
“Virtually everybody who voted for President Trump in 2016, their support is through the roof,” he said.
Andrew Hitt, chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said that a presidential visit “fuels” enthusiasm and “brings a spotlight to a community, an issue, like you can’t do in any other situation.”
“When the president comes, regardless of whether you get a chance to go to that rally, chances are you are watching that rally on TV,” he said.
Democrats say they’re not taking the state for granted, nor are they letting up despite the lead in the polls.
And they discounted the idea that they were repeating mistakes from 2016 when Clinton didn’t campaign in Wisconsin during the general election.
Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, have both traveled to Wisconsin. And Democrats and their allies are flooding the Wisconsin airwaves with advertisements, outspending those who back Trump.
“This election is not the same as 2016,” Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said. “We see the enthusiasm, we see people who are ready to go to the ballot box. And when we think about the amount of times that Donald Trump has come to Wisconsin, I guess it just lets you know he’s literally running scared, that he continues not to listen to the science on this pandemic. That’s why his events are super spreader events.”
Democrats continue to criticize the president over his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I challenge anybody to answer the simple question: What is Donald Trump’s plan to fight the pandemic?,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said. “What is the plan of the Republicans in the state Legislature to fight this pandemic? They don’t have a plan.”
Kaul added: “Joe Biden has a plan, Donald Trump does not.”
Sophie Carson of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.