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Kamala Harris visits Milwaukee for her first in-person campaign event

Sen. Kamala D. Harris tours a union  training facility Monday in Milwaukee.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris tours a union training facility Monday in Milwaukee. (Morry Gash/AP)
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Sen. Kamala D. Harris visited Milwaukee on Monday for her first in-person campaign stop since being named the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, highlighting the campaigns’ continued convergence on Wisconsin, the epicenter of ongoing protests against police violence and a state President Trump won by fewer than 30,000 votes in 2016.

Hours after Vice President Pence toured an energy facility in La Crosse — and just days after Biden himself visited Kenosha and Milwaukee — Harris toured an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility and held a roundtable with Black business owners in Milwaukee. President Trump also visited Kenosha last week.

Former vice president Joe Biden spent Monday in Harrisburg, Pa., the first of two Pennsylvania visits on his schedule this week. Recent polls have shown the race tightening in that state, which Trump took by fewer than 70,000 votes in 2016.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris visited Milwaukee on Sept. 8 for her first in-person campaign stop since being named the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. (Video: AP)

Both Biden and Trump will visit Shanksville, Pa., on Friday to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Democratic ticket has maintained a clear geographic focus in its first few weeks, holding multiple virtual events geared toward Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida — battleground states likely to determine the ticket’s fate in November. Biden’s events were mostly virtual, but after appeals from some Democrats in the region, he started hitting the road last week.

“We know how crucial the state of Wisconsin, especially the city of Milwaukee, will be in the upcoming election,” Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s Democratic lieutenant governor, said at Monday’s event. “It’s an important thing to have leaders who care, leaders who will show up and listen to the concerns.”

Trump and Pence have been traveling since early last month, showing less concern about traveling and drawing crowds when the novel coronavirus remains widespread.

Harris spent much of her first few weeks meeting virtually with Black organizers in areas where Black turnout dipped in 2016, and offering forceful criticism of police violence and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Her visit to Milwaukee on Monday was no accident; Democrats saw softer-than-expected turnout there in 2016, leading to recriminations because the Clinton campaign did not dedicate many resources to the area.

“I once lived in Wisconsin, did you know that? Wisconsin is part of my story,” Harris told reporters Monday, noting that her parents taught at the University of Wisconsin when she was young.

Harris began the visit with a private meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man left paralyzed after police shot him seven times in Kenosha last month. Members of his legal team were also in attendance.

Biden met with Blake’s family during his visit to Wisconsin last week, but neither Trump nor Pence has met with Blake’s family.

“They’re an incredible family, and what they’ve endured, they do it with such dignity and grace. And you know, they’re carrying the weight of a lot of voices on their shoulders,” Harris said. According to a statement released by Blake’s attorney Ben Crump, Blake told Harris he was proud of her.

Pence used his Wisconsin stop to praise the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement this year, and to criticize Harris for voting against it.

“I heard that Joe Biden’s running mate is in Milwaukee today, but dairy farmers in Wisconsin deserve to know that Senator Kamala Harris is one of only 10 senators to vote against the USMCA,” Pence said. “She said it didn’t go far enough on climate change.”

In Pennsylvania, Biden criticized Trump’s approach to trade during a socially distanced conversation with iron workers and veterans. He noted that the trade deficit is larger than it has been in a long time, and promised not to violate any trade agreements in his administration.

Biden’s focus has bounced around somewhat in the past week — from remarks in Pittsburgh about the coronavirus early last week, to a rebuke of violence and a commitment to racial justice in Kenosha on Thursday, to remarks about the difficulties of opening schools in Milwaukee shortly after, to a grim portrayal of the American economy in Delaware on Friday.

As input flies in from all sides of the Democratic Party, Biden is seeking to unify his messages under a single overarching theme: Whatever your problem, Trump is its cause.

On Monday, his message centered on labor. He visited the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, arriving about 2 p.m. and greeted by a small group of supporters waving signs.

He spoke with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and met virtually with Pennsylvania union workers, followed by a virtual town hall. “The aspirations of working people are what fuel Joe,” Trumka said.

The two have known each other for decades, and although Trumka has ties with Trump administration officials and has worked closely with the White House on some issues, his federation is backing Biden.

“If there’s one thing this pandemic has done, it’s shown the courage, the character and the deep love of this country that lies at the heart of working people in this nation,” Biden said.

Biden pledged to be an ally of labor if he’s elected, including appointing more labor-friendly members to the National Labor Relations Board. “I’ve never been afraid to say the word ‘union,’ ” Biden said. “You can be sure you’ll be hearing that word ‘union’ plenty of times if I’m in the White House.”

Biden walked through his Build Back Better economic agenda, which includes a $700 billion federal investment in American-made goods and research. Biden also took aim at Trump’s plan to halt evictions through the end of the year, saying it does not go far enough.

“What happens in six months? All of a sudden rent comes due,” Biden said.

While Biden was still inside, the crowd across the street grew to more than 50 people, chanting slogans such as “We want Joe! Trump’s gotta go!” And “Black lives matter!”

One man hoisted a sign that read: “Angry old white guy for Biden.” At one point he yelled: “I can’t die before Trump is gone!” and “No dictators!”

The campaign also announced three new labor endorsements, as the Laborers’ International Union of America, the International Union of Elevator Constructors and the National Federation of Federal Employees all pledged their support.

The Biden-Harris campaign already had the support of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, including an endorsement of its climate plan. A Harrisburg IBEW worker narrated a video about Biden’s plan to combat climate change that ran during the Democratic National Convention last month.

Harris stopped by an IBEW training facility Monday where she spoke with people who train workers there. Her next stop was a meeting with Black business owners from the Milwaukee area, speaking to the attendees for about 45 minutes before recapping their conversations for the press.

She pledged that she and Biden would increase access to capital for small businesses that are the “heartbeat” of their communities.

“What we know about small businesses and small-business leaders is they are not only leaders of business, they are civic leaders. They hire locally,” said Harris, who said investing in entrepreneurship would be a priority for the Biden-Harris administration.

“We see you. We understand you. We understand the significance of what you are in terms of the health and well-being of communities,” Harris said. “We see the benefit for the entire country to invest in our small businesses and small-business leaders.”

Annie Linskey contributed to this report.