Noreen Nasir, Alexandra Jaffe and Kathleen Ronayne
MILWAUKEE — Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris met the family of a Wisconsin man shot by police last month to kick off her Labor Day visit to a critical swing state, while President Donald Trump assailed the Democratic ticket and put the halting economic recovery under the best light.
Harris gathered with Jacob Blake's father, two sisters and members of his legal team at the airport in Milwaukee while Blake's mother, attorney Ben Crump joined by phone. Blake also joined the conversation by phone. Joe Biden met with the family last week in Milwaukee before visiting Kenosha, the city where police shot Blake.
The meeting kicked off a packed day of Labor Day campaign events, with Harris meeting IBEW union workers and Black business owners in Milwaukee, while Vice President Mike Pence, also sent to Wisconsin, toured an energy facility in La Crosse before delivering a speech that touched on jobs, the economy and protests in Kenosha.
"We will have law and order in every city in this country for every American of every race and creed," Pence said.
At a news conference from the White House, Trump attacked Biden as a leader incapable of handling the coronavirus and reviving the economy and pledged his own "undying loyalty to the American worker." He said Biden and Harris would "destroy this country and would destroy this economy."
Trump boasted of adding more than 10 million jobs since May without mentioning that's only about half of the jobs lost since the pandemic.
Biden, meanwhile, was collecting a trio of endorsements from organized labor as he headed to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for an AFL-CIO virtual town hall with union President Richard Trumka.
Meeting first with local labor leaders in the backyard of a supporter's home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Biden spoke about trade, coronavirus and the economy as he criticized Trump for "refusing to deal with the problems that affect ordinary people" and called for strengthening unions.
The four attendees expressed support for Biden and frustration with Trump's policies.
"I can't understand what's going on today, I'm lost," said Bob Faust, a member of the local Ironworkers Union. "I get choked up when I think about the direction this country's going in at this time. We need your help."
Harris' morning meeting with Blake's family again underscored the two campaigns' differing approaches to addressing police shootings of Black men and women and the resulting protests, including some that have been violent. While Harris and Biden have met with Blake's family, Trump did not in a recent visit to Kenosha, instead meeting law enforcement officials and touring damage to businesses from the protests.
Trump's narrow win in Wisconsin in 2016 helped to send him to the White House. The state's importance was underscored by all four candidates campaigning there over the past week.
The Biden campaign believes its labor support could help get out the vote in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
According to details shared first with The Associated Press, the campaign will announce three union endorsements: the Laborers' International Union of North America, the International Union of Elevator Constructors and the National Federation of Federal Employees, collectively representing hundreds of thousands of union workers nationwide who can be mobilized to support the campaign.
Labor Day typically marks the unofficial start to the fall campaign season as candidates accelerate their activity for the final sprint to Election Day. But Monday's events are playing out this year against the backdrop of a pandemic that has upended campaigning, forcing much of the candidates' traditional activity online.
Indeed, this marks Harris' first solo foray out on the campaign trail for in-person events since she was announced as Biden's running mate nearly a month ago. But Biden himself has stepped up his campaigning over the past week, traveling to Pittsburgh and Kenosha and holding two news conferences. Aides say to expect both Biden and Harris to increase their campaigning for the remaining weeks.
While the presidential campaign was roiled this past week by multiple reports recounting comments Trump allegedly made disparaging fallen soldiers, as well as the police shooting and violent protests in Kenosha, the focus on Labor Day is likely to return to the issue that polls consistently find at the top of voters' minds: the economy.
A strong economy that was Trump's biggest asset for reelection has now become a potential liability, brought down by the coronavirus. The Biden campaign has emphasized the economic damage wrought by what Biden argues was an inadequate response to the pandemic that resulted in more loss of life and jobs than necessary. It's a line both Biden and Harris are likely to push while speaking to union voters.
The U.S. economy has been steadily rebounding from its epic collapse in the spring as many businesses have reopened and rehired some laid-off employees. Yet the recovery is far from complete. Only about half the 22 million jobs that vanished in the pandemic have been recovered.
Economic inequalities also appear to have widened, with lower-income and minority workers suffering disproportionately while affluent Americans have lost fewer jobs and even benefited from rising stock and home prices.