Joe Biden on Monday visited the key battleground state of Wisconsin, where Covid-19 cases have surged recently, to bear down hard on his criticism of President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, even as the president has turned his attention to the vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Biden’s trip to an aluminum foundry in Manitowoc, about 70 miles north of Milwaukee, was his second to Wisconsin in recent weeks, underscoring the attention his campaign has begun devoting to the state. Earlier this month, Biden visited Kenosha, the site of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and ensuing unrest, earlier this month. His running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also visited Kenosha earlier this month.
Pointing out that "it’s been so long" since the pandemic began, and noting that the nation had just passed the "tragic milestone" of 200,000 people dead from the coronavirus, Biden expressed concern that Republican leaders, as well as voters, have begun to tune out the pain of the outbreak.
"I worry we’re at risk of becoming numb to the toll that’s taking on us," he said. "We can't let that happen."
"All the president does is deliberately change the subject," he said.
While Covid-19 infection rates have stabilized in some parts of the U.S., they’ve surged enormously in Wisconsin recently. In the last seven days, Wisconsin has the third-highest number of infections per 100,000 people. In Manitowoc County, where Biden spoke, confirmed cases have risen over the last 14 days.
But voters' attention on the pandemic appears to be shifting in parts of the state and country, especially since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday thrust into the spotlight the new Supreme Court vacancy.
Trump has pounded that issue over the last 72 hours, pledging to nominate a woman for the seat by Friday or Saturday and saying he wants a confirmation vote on his pick before the election. Biden responded in a speech Sunday, pleading with Senate Republicans to not vote on a nominee ahead of the election.
The former vice president used large chunks of his Wisconsin speech on Monday to reiterate his populist-tinged criticism of Trump and to tout his own support of unions and working-class voters.
He acknowledged that Democrats have to do more to win back the thousands of former supporters who voted for Trump in 2016. Democrats were hounded with accusations after the election that they didn't pay enough attention to Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where many working-class voters fled the party.
Addressing "those of you who voted for Donald Trump," Biden said, "I know many of you were frustrated, angry. "
In 2008, Barack Obama won Manitowoc County by a comfortable 8 percentage points. In 2012, Obama lost it to Mitt Romney by 2.8 percentage points. By 2016, Trump won the county by more than 21 percentage points. Experts have attributed swings like that in areas of states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania to the theory that Democrats have not spoken to blue-collar voters — a notion that Biden addressed.
"I know many of you believe you weren't being seen or heard. I get it," he said. "It has to change."
"I promise you this," Biden added. "You will be seen, heard and respected by me."