MILWAUKEE >> As Democrats prepare for their last debate before primary voting commences, President Donald Trump is eager to provide political counter-programming in a nearby battleground state.
Trump arrived in Wisconsin tonight for a rally that coincides with the final Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, which holds its kickoff caucuses in less than three weeks on Feb. 3.
While Democratic voters try to decide who is their best candidate to take on Trump, the president has been contending with the House vote to impeach him. After weeks of delay, the House will vote Wednesday to send its articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Republicans hold the majority in the Senate and there is nowhere near the 67 votes needed for Trump’s removal.
Winning back Wisconsin is a key part of Democrats’ 2020 strategy — and one of the reasons the party chose Milwaukee to host its national convention in July. Trump won the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, cracking Democrats’ long-held “blue wall,” along with Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump is expected to make frequent return visits in the coming months as he works to maintain his edge.
Vice President Mike Pence warmed up the rally crowd by describing Trump as someone who takes decisive action when the lives of Americans are threatened, citing recent events in the Middle East.
“When militants stormed our embassy in Baghdad, this president sent in the Marines. And he said, ‘No more Benghazis,’” Pence asserted. “And when American lives were threatened by the most dangerous terrorist in the world, President Donald Trump took action and Qassem Soleimani is gone.”
Trump supporters began lining up Monday evening outside the arena to make sure they would be able to get inside.
“I think the Wisconsin vote is very important, very important,” said Brenda Stoetzer, 60, from Hickory Hills, Illinois. “And we need to just spread the message here that, you know, Trump is helping the people, the ordinary people. He’s not making the rich richer. He’s making everyone richer.”
“I think he’s done right by the whole country,” agreed Nancy Freye, 65, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. “He’s fighting for all of us every day. I don’t know how you can even get anything done, but he does. So good for him and for us.”
Counter-protests and other related events organized by both Democrats and the Trump administration were planned ahead of the rally at an arena in the heart of downtown.
Democrats were focused on health care issues, with Mayor Tom Barrett, the state Democratic Party chairman and others planning to speak at a Milwaukee hospital against Trump’s health care policies. They were pressing the need to uphold the current law, enacted under former President Barack Obama, that guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Protests were also planned around the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee arena. The Coalition to March on the DNC said more than a dozen groups would be joining its event. And an immigrant and refugee advocacy group, Voces de la Frontera, planned a separate rally to criticize the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and refugees.
Meanwhile, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was holding an event to highlight the administration’s criminal justice reform efforts with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Trump signed the First Step Act, a law designed to overhaul the criminal justice system, reduce the number of people in prison and help former inmates rejoin society. It was a rare bipartisan victory, with backing from black leaders and lawmakers who forged an allegiance with Trump.
Democrats and Republicans are trying to win over black voters in big cities such as Milwaukee that will play a huge role in deciding who will become the next president. Lower African American turnout in 2016 was part of what helped fuel Trump’s victory.
One of those organizers in Milwaukee, Angela Lang, said Kushner’s event seemed like an attempt to woo minorities. But she said Trump shouldn’t assume that all black voters care about is mass incarceration and criminal justice reform.
“Everyone knows when you come to Milwaukee that’s code for black and brown voters,” she said. “But black voters are more than just single-issue voters.”
Wisconsin’s primary is April 7.