Biden’s Kenosha agenda: Meet Blake family, visit church, win Wisconsin
KENOSHA, Wis. — Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden arrived at Grace Lutheran Church on Thursday on a healing — and turnout — mission, tying the Jacob Blake shooting to a series of larger race-related issues two months before his showdown with President Donald Trump.
“I made a mistake about something. I thought you could defeat hate. It only hides,” said Biden, masked and socially distancing. “It only hides.”
Taking notes as he listened, Biden heard from a former Marine, a looted picture frame shop owner and a lawyer who worked defense and prosecution only to conclude no matter what side of the aisle she was on, the system was rigged against Black and Brown defendants.
Trump was in Kenosha on Tuesday with a starkly different agenda, emphasizing and praising law enforcement, while ignoring the incident that’s sparked protests and riots: A white Kenosha police officer shot the Evanston-raised Blake, 29, a Black man, seven times in the back. Blake is paralyzed with other severe internal injuries.
Biden, traveling with his wife, Jill, had a combo assignment on Thursday: meeting with the Blake family — he talked to the hospitalized younger Blake by phone — the church visit that showcased the empathy he earned through tragedy, and winning the key swing state of Wisconsin.
The rap against Hillary Clinton was she never campaigned in Wisconsin in 2016, contributing to her 22,000-vote defeat in the state. President Barack Obama and Biden, his vice president, won the state in 2008 and 2012.
Biden’s visit on Thursday was his first in the Badger State since the 2018 midterm elections, when he came to stump for folks on the Democratic Wisconsin ticket.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden had no in-person appearance before the April Wisconsin primary. And after canceling the Democratic National Convention activities in Milwaukee, he also scrapped plans to deliver his acceptance speech in that city because of the state’s spike in coronavirus infections.
After Kenosha, Biden made a second stop in Wauwatosa, targeting the GOP vote-rich Milwaukee suburbs. The idea is to shave points from Trump’s presumed margin on that turf. In a backyard, Biden talked about school reopenings during the pandemic, a topic aimed at worried parents.
Kenosha is in a swing county in a swing state, with Trump prevailing in 2016 by just 286 votes. Obama and Biden won here in 2008 and 2012.
Kenosha County Democratic Chair Lori Hawkins, a Bristol resident and an English teacher, and I talked about Kenosha before she headed to Grace Lutheran Church.
“We’re glad [Biden] is here today, and people understand why he hasn’t been here,” she said, as Trump’s campaign on Thursday continued to pound Biden for not being in Wisconsin before now.
Trump on Tuesday “didn’t meet the moment that we needed from a president. He was not here to heal our community,” she said. Healing is what Biden is selling.
If Biden were president, he said he would create a commission and get everyone — police chiefs, civil rights activists, Black and Latino representatives — together to “work it out. Because a significant portion of police are decent people.”
Near the end, Biden said, “I think there is a chance for a real awakening here. And the point is, I don’t think we have any alternative but to fight.”
And to the nervous Democrats who think Trump, after his law and order convention, “really made inroads,” Biden said in a big stage whisper, “He hasn’t.”
“Not at all. This should give you a little bit of confidence in the American people. They ain’t buying it.”
Earlier in the day, a block away from where Blake was shot, I talked to Ardis Mosley, a member of a pioneering Kenosha civil rights family, as youths were painting murals on the boarded-up Diver Dan’s Scuba and Aquatic Center.
Her brother, Tim Mahone, of their family Mary Lou & Arthur F. Mahone Fund — which provides scholarships and services to Kenosha’s communities of color — moderated the Biden event at the church.
Mosley said the student mural project is intended, in part, for the youths to “express their feelings about what is taking place. And also to show them that all is not discouraged.” They’ve been painting for two days and have more work to do on Friday.
Will the Trump and Biden visits have any impact on the vote? Said Mosley, Biden “represents hope, that change is going to come,” that “there is a brighter tomorrow.”
Joe Biden meets Thursday with members of the community at Grace Lutheran Church in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Kenosha County Democratic Chair Lori Hawkins said of President Trump’s visit earlier this week, “He was not here to heal our community.”