Mosinee visit to highlight rural importance for Trump campaign

President Donald Trump

MOSINEE, Wis. — President Donald Trump will headline a rally in Central Wisconsin Thursday evening as the campaign continues to push a heavy presence in a state he won by less than a percentage point four years ago.

His stop comes after public clashes on Wednesday with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director over the timing of a COVID-19 vaccine, and a continued lag in Wisconsin polls behind Democrat opponent and former vice president Joe Biden. 

Trump will appear at the Central Wisconsin Airport, where he also stopped less than two years ago while stumping for former Governor Scott Walker and U.S. Senate-hopeful Leah Vukmir (both of whom lost their races). 

Both the most recent Marquette Law School poll and a Washington Post/ABC News poll show Trump trailing Biden by four and six percentage points, respectively a lead that has remained relatively stable over the past few months in Wisconsin. The state hadn’t backed a Republican presidential candidate since 1984 prior to 2016, and two years later ousted Republican governor Scott Walker in a hotly-contested race with Democrat Tony Evers.

“He’s not doing as well in those ring communities around urban areas where Republicans have traditionally run up the vote,” Prof. Barry Burden said, UW-Madison political science professor and the director of the Elections Research Center. “Trump’s strategy is really doubling down on areas where he did well in 2016; and in Wisconsin, that was rural communities in the central part and northwest corner of the state.”

Mosinee falls in Marathon County, the major population center for northern and central Wisconsin and the largest metro area in the 7th Congressional District, which helped elect Trump in 2016 with a 20-point margin. Historically, the region hasn’t been quite so deeply red. While it elected former GOP U.S. Representative Sean Duffy for several terms, it’s also home to pivot counties like Lincoln that voted for President Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 before swinging heavily right in 2016. Other counties in the area that maintained Republican majorities prior to 2016 did so but frequently by much smaller margins; Marathon County has voted for both Republican and Democrat presidents since 2000 but usually by much smaller margins of four to six points. 

The importance of the rural Wisconsin vote isn’t lost on Democrats, Burden says. They’ve consciously made rural issues like agriculture and trade a key part of their messaging, something reflected in state Democrat chair Ben Wikler’s comments on Thursday.

“Trump’s only path to victory to the White House is to win Wisconsin, and to win Wisconsin Trump needs to get gigantic margins across northern Wisconsin, across the Wausau media market,” Wikler noted. “When you talk to voters across the region, what you find is that there are a ton of votes who feel like Trump is not up to the job at this moment; that people are experiencing an economy that has been devastated by a virus that the president just hasn’t brought under control.”

Rural communities that helped put Trump in office, particularly in Wisconsin’s western regions, showed signs of a drift back to blue in 2018 when Governor Scott Walker lost to incoming Democrat Tony Evers. With Trump consistently trailing in statewide polls, piling up the votes in central Wisconsin is a crucial component of his strategy.

“Trump’s bread and butter is really the rural parts of the state,” Prof. Burden noted.

Major themes of recent campaign stops and messaging from the administration have included promises of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020, a claim in part contradicted by CDC director Robert Redfield on Wednesday who said a vaccine for the vast majority of Americans may not be widely available until the second or third quarter of 2021. It’s also likely he’ll touch on the economy, where he gets his highest approval ratings in the Marquette Law School poll–above his overall job approval rating, which came in at 44% among likely voters, his lowest in Wisconsin this year.

The event is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., with doors opening three hours earlier. News 3 Now will have a crew at the rally and will bring you coverage throughout the day and evening.