Miranda Bryant, The Guardian, September 7, 2020
Kamala Harris and Mike Pence marked Labor Day – the traditional start of campaign season – by heading to Wisconsin, the swing state that Donald Trump won by less than a percentage point in 2016.
Shortly after touching down in Milwaukee, Harris met privately with the family and legal team of Jacob Blake at the airport. The meeting included Blake’s father, two sisters and members of his legal team, and they were joined on the phone by Blake, his mother and the family’s attorney Benjamin Crump.
Blake, a Black man, was left paralyzed after he was shot by police seven times in the back last month in Kenosha, reigniting mass anti-racism and anti police brutality protests.
Asked how the meeting went, Harris told reporters: “Really wonderful. I mean they’re an incredible family and what they’ve endured and they do it with such dignity and grace. And you know, they’re carrying the weight of a lot of voices on their shoulders.”
Asked what message she had conveyed, she said: “Just to, one, to express concern for their wellbeing and of course, for their brother and their son’s wellbeing and to let them know that they have support.”
Crump said Harris had an “inspirational and uplifting” one-hour visit with Jacob Blake Jr and his family. She spoke to them about how they were handling their trauma and “urged them to take care of their physical and mental health”.
“In a moving moment, Jacob Jr told Senator Harris that he was proud of her, and the senator told Jacob that she was also proud of him and how he is working through his pain.”
In her first visit to a battleground state as Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Harris toured an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) training facility, where she spoke with members and Wisconsin labor leaders.
She attended a “build back better” roundtable with Black business owners in Milwaukee where she had been expected to talk about how a Biden-Harris administration would improve racial equality.
Ahead of her visit, Harris tweeted on Monday morning: “To all the workers who have kept our country going: Thank you. From those essential workers picking up another early shift to front line health care workers working on extra shifts, your nation owes you a debt of gratitude. We will keep fighting for you.”
On the other side of the state in La Crosse, Vice-President Pence addressed employees at the Dairyland Power Cooperative.
In comments that lasted just over half an hour, standing in front of a US flag, Pence said the Trump administration planned to “make America great again, again” and promised a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.
He praised Trump and his response to the pandemic, criticized the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and spoke in support of the police, vowing: “We’re not going to defund the police, not now, not ever.” Neither Biden nor Harris has said they support defunding the police.
On coronavirus, he said: “Joe Biden said not long ago that no miracle is coming. But here in America, we’re in the miracle business and we’re going to have a safe and effective vaccine for the coronavirus before the end of this year.”
The visits mark the first time both vice-presidential candidates have campaigned in the same state on the same day.
Wisconsin, which Trump won by less than 23,000 votes after Hillary Clinton decided not to campaign there in the final stretch of the 2016 race, is considered a vital component to the president’s re-election campaign ahead of November’s election.
Biden and Trump both visited the state last week with trips to Kenosha, but their approaches were in stark contrast.
Biden met with Blake’s family and warned that Trump’s behavior “legitimizes the dark side of human nature”, while Trump used his visit to claim that racial injustice in policing is due to “bad apples” rather than being “systemic”.
Until now, Harris has largely been campaigning virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 190,000 people and infected more than 6.2 million in the US, more than any other country in the world by far.
In an interview on Sunday, Harris hit back at the denial by the president and the attorney general, William Barr, of systemic racism in the US justice system, telling CNN there are “two systems of justice” for Black and white Americans.
With less than 60 days to go until election day on 3 November, the president had no planned campaign events scheduled for Monday – but held a Labor Day press conference that contained plenty of campaigning. Later this week he has visits planned to North Carolina, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Biden, meanwhile, spent Monday campaigning in Pennsylvania, which Trump also won by less than a percentage point four years ago.