President Donald Trump makes a campaign visit to Wisconsin with Republicans growing increasingly nervous about the prospects of holding onto the governor’s office, let alone picking up a Senate seat held by a well-positioned Democratic incumbent.
Trump on Wednesday will return to a rural part of the state he easily won by double digits in 2016. It is far from the conservative Milwaukee suburbs where his support is weaker, but it’s in an area where Gov. Scott Walker and GOP Senate candidate Leah Vukmir will need to do well.
The question is whether Trump’s presence in the tiny central Wisconsin city of Mosinee (population 4,000) will provide enough of a boost to energize Republican voters to matter for Walker and Vukmir less than two weeks before the election.
Vukmir is counting on it as she challenges Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
“These are the people we want to be sure to come out to vote,” Vukmir said in an interview Tuesday.
Vukmir, who is from a conservative Milwaukee suburb in Waukesha County, said it was “far better” for Trump to campaign in central Wisconsin than her part of the state. Vukmir didn’t do well in northern Wisconsin in her primary win, which was fueled by strong support in southeast Wisconsin.
“This is the heart of Trump country,” said Vukmir, who was campaigning in the area on Tuesday with Rep. Sean Duffy. “This is the part of the state, central Wisconsin and northern, that came through for him and advocates for him.”
Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point, but he carried the county where he’s appearing Wednesday 56 percent to 38 percent. He won the mostly rural congressional district by 21 points — the widest margin of any congressional district in the state.
Getting out the GOP base in areas that went big for Trump will be important for both Vukmir and Walker. Polls show the race between Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent, is a tossup. Baldwin, who is running for a second term, has consistently led Vukmir, a state senator, in fundraising and in polls.
Walker on Tuesday released a new television ad attacking Evers over his support for in-state tuition for children of people living in the U.S. illegally and of issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants here illegally. The spot ends with the line: “Tony Evers: special treatment for illegals, higher taxes for you.”
Evers decried the ad as a desperate move to mimic Trump, who has been using campaign rallies to increase his anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Trump has a complicated history with both Walker and Vukmir. Walker ran against Trump for president, winning support from Vukmir and most other Wisconsin Republicans. Walker has since become a consistent Trump supporter, although not as vocal as Vukmir.
“My relationship with the president is straightforward,” Walker said this month. “When he does things that are good for the state of Wisconsin, I praise him for it. When he does things I disagree with, that I think are detrimental to the state of Wisconsin, I call him up or the vice president up or call someone else and do something about it.”
Trump has put Walker in difficult positions, including when he called for a boycott of Milwaukee-based motorcycle-maker Harley-Davidson amid a tariff dispute. But Walker has stood with Trump on some of his most divisive policies, including supporting building the Mexico-U.S. border wall. He ran ads on Facebook in support of sending National Guard troops to defend the southern border.
Vukmir’s GOP primary opponent called her loyalty to Trump into question after footage of Vukmir from 2016 emerged in which she said Trump is “offensive to everyone.” Vukmir, who later was in a radio ad for Trump in the 2016 campaign, said there are no lingering questions about her support of Trump.
“Oh goodness, no,” she said. “There weren’t even questions back then. It was kind of silly.”
As Trump heads to central Wisconsin, Democrats are focusing their efforts this week on Milwaukee, the state’s largest city.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attracted about 1,000 people to a Monday rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, while former President Barack Obama is holding an event in the city Friday.
While the Trump visit is designed to excite the Republican base, Democrats say it’s also galvanizing their supporters.
Trump’s visit “just reinforces Walker’s racist, sexist, xenophobic record,” said Analiese Eicher, program director for the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. “It’s doubling down on the policies that divide us.”