Biden vs Trump: The week the US presidential campaign finally came to life

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Nick Allen
·5 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Biden - AFP
Biden - AFP
Paywall down
Paywall down

Joe Biden appeared to have won the first on-the ground duel of the coronavirus-hit US election after he and Donald Trump both descended on the battleground state of Wisconsin.

For the first time both candidates travelled to the same place this week, visiting the flashpoint city of Kenosha where riots erupted after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, seven times in the back.

The events in Kenosha finally, after much internal discussion with his team, induced Mr Biden to hit the campaign trail. Had it not been for the pandemic he would have done so months ago.

Instead, Mr Biden has spent most of his time recently conducting virtual events from his home in Delaware. Mr Trump had called him "Joe Hiden," and accused him of hiding in his basement.

Mr Biden's first campaign visit to the Midwest came with only two months to go until the election, and lit the touchpaper for what will be a bruising fight in Wisconsin.

Mr Trump won the state by less than one percentage point in 2016. It had voted Democrat since 1984.

Four years ago he took Kenosha County, which has 160,000 people, by just 255 votes, or 0.3 per cent of the ballots cast.

Republicans had privately accepted losing Wisconsin this time, but Mr Trump has refused to give it up.

The president swooped into Kenosha on Tuesday and accused rioters of "domestic terror," and Democrats of being weak on law and order.

Mr Biden followed two days later, and prayed with the now-paralysed Mr Blake.

A tracking poll completed this week suggested Mr Biden had come out on top. It showed him now leading by 10 points in Wisconsin, up from just three points in the same poll before Mr Blake was shot on Aug 23. 

The candidates’ presence provoked passionate responses from Kenoshans on both sides.

“Trump stood right where you're standing and I believe he felt it. He felt our pain," Scott Carpenter, 51, told The Telegraph, amid the charred remains of desks and filing cabinets in what used to be his shop, B & L Office Furniture.

“Trump sees his country is bleeding and he wants to help. He's a real person. He's a businessman, I could see he knows what it's like to build your business from the ground up like our family did,” said Mr Carpenter. “Biden? I never heard from him. I’d like to. I don't know if he even reached out to any business owners while was here.”

Read more: Donald Trump vs Joe Biden policies

Trump - Reuters
Trump - Reuters

Less than a mile across town Elizabeth Webb, 42, a black single mother, who’s 20-year-old son witnessed the Jacob Blake shooting, said: “I think Trump was a joke. He should have stayed his ass, excuse me, at home. Why come here to witness what your hatred has done?”

She added: “It (the shooting) was a hard thing for my son to see. He's withdrawn, he's upset. This has got to stop. Kenosha has harassed and beaten down the young black men of this city.

“To me it was a political statement that the probation office got burned down. It has locked up so many young black people. God hears our prayers on a daily basis, but now its time for the world to hear our cries."

It appeared the candidates’ visits, left Republicans and Democrats in Kenosha more deeply entrenched than ever.

“Trump ran into a roadblock with the virus, but anyone would have. He did his best,” said Rich, 60, a Republican Army veteran, looking at the burned wreckage of The Too Good Ice Cream Shoppe on 22nd Avenue in Kenosha.

The last thing standing was a gumball machine where insects were now feasting.

“It breaks my heart, I was born and raised here," he said. “What happened here is a crime and you need a firm hand. Not abusive but tough. Trump's just a tougher guy than Biden and that's what we need now, a stronger police force and military. Biden's more relaxed with the protesters, then this happens.”

Kenoshans of all stripes were keen to point out that more than half of the 200 people arrested, many of them armed, were from elsewhere. And that means the same violence could come to other suburban towns.

Read more: US Election 2020 poll tracker - who is leading the polls?

flag - Reuters
flag - Reuters

At his furniture store, Mr Carpenter said: "It was people from out of state, that’s what we’re hearing. And they’re moving, they could go anywhere. You don’t know where it'll happen next.“

He blamed the rioters, but also Wisconsin’s Democrat governor for not sending in the National Guard more quickly.

This week, Mr Trump began hammering the airwaves, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, with a TV advert portraying Mr Biden, and Democrats generally, as weak on rioters. His new slogan is "Jobs Not Mobs".

In a sign of his vulnerability on the issue Mr Biden has decided to spend an astonishing $45 million in a single week on adverts condemning violent protests. It is by far the biggest advert spend of his campaign.

blake - Kenosha County Court
blake - Kenosha County Court

It should be noted that, despite Mr Trump’s focus on the protests, and endless TV coverage of them, US cities are not in flames.

In Kenosha, while devastating for those involved, destruction was limited to small pockets over an area of less than a mile. Vast swathes of the city were unaffected. Several dozen businesses were destroyed.

Kenosha itself was an improbable place for riots. Its story is familiar across the Midwest. Once a manufacturing hub, the last of 11 million cars rolled out of the Chrsyler factory in 1988, leaving 5,000 Kenoshans unemployed.

Now, it is effectively a suburb of Milwaukee to the north, and Chicago to the south. Much of its, overwhelmingly white, population travels to work there.

One of the few undecided Kenoshans, a small business owner, said he had watched the visits of the presidential candidates closely, but was more at a loss than ever who to support.

“Four years ago I scratched my head and voted for Trump at the last second because I thought he could do something about the trade deficit,” he said. “But on everything else he’s failed. And Biden’s an old guy who’s just going to sit there.

"I’m scratching my head again. They both suck.”