As the Supreme Court debate raged in Washington, Joe Biden went to Wisconsin Monday and gave it nary a mention.
Instead, the former vice president focused on Covid-19 and the economy. He highlighted the 200,000 deaths and counting on Trump's watch.
"I worry we risk becoming numb to the toll it’s taken on us and our country and communities like this,” Biden said in a speech in Manitowoc, Wis., a small city in the Green Bay media market about 45 minutes from Packers HQ. Biden criticized Trump for downplaying the virus, which the president admitted he did to Bob Woodward, before later arguing that he didn't want the country to panic.
Actually, it was Trump who panicked, Biden charged: "The virus was too big for him."
Biden's remarks came as the Badger State is seeing a sharp spike in Covid-19 cases, up 130 percent in the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database.
Speaking at the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry, Biden also talked about the economy and the dignity of work. He acknowledged that many voters in the area were drawn to Trump because they felt let down by the Obama administration.
“I promise you this, it will change with me," Biden said. "You will be seen, heard and respected by me.”
The play: In a state where Trump won by fewer than 23,000 votes, Biden is trying to appeal to the working class voters who left the Democratic Party in droves in 2016. The industry-heavy Manitowoc County sharply pivoted from Barack Obama, who won it by 7 points in 2008, to Trump, who carried the county by more than 21 points in 2016. Biden needs to at least narrow the margins in places like Manitowoc if he is to carry Wisconsin.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said that the state’s mid-size industrial cities could prove pivotal in November. “[T]he Green Bays, the Kenoshas, Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Manitowoc — those cities that are in the 60,000 to 100,000 [population] range, typically blue-collar — but not large urban areas, not small towns,” he said.
What Trump says: In an interview with "Fox & Friends" Monday, Trump gave himself an A+ for his handling of the coronavirus, "Other than public relations, but that's because I have fake news."
On the economy, Trump has repeatedly framed the downturn as the fault of the “the China virus.” He's blasted Biden as bad on trade (supported NAFTA) and weak on China — while arguing the Democrat would suffocate the economy with higher taxes demanded by liberals.
The upshot: Biden’s campaign is betting that Americans care less about the politics of the Supreme Court pick and are more concerned with whether the virus is under control, whether schools will reopen and what will happen with their jobs and health care. Avoiding talk of SCOTUS also keeps the conversation from veering toward social issues that will inevitably be part of the fight over installing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement.
By contrast, Covid is Trump's biggest vulnerability. And the economy remains one of the few relative bright spots for the president: A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll over the weekend showed the president with a 48-38 percent lead on the question of who is better suited to manage the economy.