Former President Trump holds rally in Racine days after alleged Milwaukee diss

Wisconsin considered one of country's top battleground states in upcoming presidential election

BySteve Contorno, CNN CNNWire logo
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Former President Trump changes tune on Milwaukee
Former President Trump changed his tune on Milwaukee during a campaign rally in Racine Tuesday.

RACINE, Wis. -- Days after reportedly calling Milwaukee "horrible" behind closed doors, former President Donald Trump rallied with his supporters just south of the city in one of the country's top battleground states.

Trump's felony conviction did nothing to change the minds of his supporters who flocked to Racine to show their allegiance.

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"We all have a past. Trump has a past. So what? We're not voting for a past. Let's start today and for the future," said Steve Giuliano of Rockford.

Racine, a city of 76,000, is still struggling economically. It is one of several cities in southeast Wisconsin being targeted heavily by Trump.

Democrats were also working hard Tuesday to get out the vote, and turn the county blue.

"Wisconsin will be absolutely essential. Wisconsin has often been the tipping point state in recent close contests. And we know that President Biden needs to win in the state of Wisconsin," Racine Democratic state Rep. Greta Neubauer said.

Trump's supporters were more concerned about his policies than his character.

"He may not communicate like I do, but he stands for everything I do, and my family and all the values that we have. We want this country to thrive, and we think he can help do it," O'Fallon, Missouri resident Dave Scheffer said.

Trump's event Tuesday came less than a month before Republicans gather in Milwaukee for their national convention, where they will nominate the former president for the third time in eight years. At a meeting with House Republicans on Capitol Hill last week, Trump referred to his party's chosen convention host city as "horrible," according to a source in the room.

The Trump campaign pushed back on some of the public characterization of the alleged remark, saying he was referring to crime and "voter fraud." As his alleged comment reverberated around the Badger State, Trump clarified to a Fox News reporter, "I love Milwaukee. I have great friends in Milwaukee" before also criticizing crime there and the city's stewardship of elections.

Milwaukee - in addition to the state capital of Madison - is a center of Democratic power in Wisconsin and home to more voters than any other city in the state. One in five of the votes for Joe Biden en route to his narrow Wisconsin victory in 2020 were cast in Milwaukee.

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The city's Democratic mayor, Cavalier Johnson, told CNN's Laura Coates last week that Trump's alleged remark could prove to be a tactical error.

"In a state that's decided on a razor's edge, that may ultimately cost Donald Trump the election," Johnson said.

Democrats have tried to capitalize on the incident to rally support for Biden around the state's largest city.

The Democratic National Committee said Friday it had launched 10 billboards across Milwaukee featuring Trump's alleged remark. The Biden campaign has begun selling T-shirts and stickers with Milwaukee on a Wisconsin outline and the words: "(Not) a Horrible City."

"I happen to love Milwaukee," Biden posted on social media Thursday, along with a picture with the Milwaukee Bucks after the team's NBA championship win in 2021.

On Tuesday, Trump had a different tune.

"Hello, Wisconsin, hello, great state: We've had great success. It's great to be back in this beautiful state, with thousands and thousands of proud hardworking American patriots," he said. "With your help, five months from now, we're going to win Wisconsin."

He campaigned on concerns about the southern border and the economy.

"Less than four years ago, our border, where secure inflation was nowhere to be seen, the world was at peace, and America was strong and respected. We were respected all over the world," Trump said.

One Oconomowoc, Wisconsin resident agreed.

"All you have to do is you have to go to the gas station, you have to go to the grocery store. You just look at your bill. Every time I go to the grocery store, it's $300, $400 more," Gaby Bettenhausen said.

Trump was also making headlines in Chicago Tuesday, after there were plans in the works for the former president to stay at his hotel in the city for the Republican National Convention.

"I love Milwaukee! I was the one that picked Milwaukee. I have to tell you; I was the one that picked it. These lying people that they say, 'oh, he doesn't like Milwaukee.' I love Milwaukee. I said, 'you've got to fix the crime," Trump said.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth said she hopes the people of Milwaukee remember what Trump previously said in November.

A focus on crime

Trump made crime in major cities a central pillar of his successful 2016 White House bid, and Milwaukee was a poster child for his "law and order" campaign against urban violence.

During an appearance just outside the city that year, Trump asserted to a suburban crowd, "The violence, riots and destruction that have taken place in Milwaukee is an assault on the right of all citizens to live in security and peace."

Trump didn't come close to winning Milwaukee, but he trounced Democrat Hillary Clinton in the surrounding suburban counties that have become influential in deciding statewide races in Wisconsin. That success helped him become the first Republican presidential nominee to carry Wisconsin since 1988.

Both Biden and Trump aggressively campaigned for votes of Wisconsinites during the 2020 election, which ended with Biden winning the state by less than half a point.

This year, Trump has once again made crime a central focus of his campaign. In announcing the trip to Racine, the Trump team blamed Biden's polices for "spiked crime across Wisconsin" and asserted that Milwaukee was "experiencing the biggest increase in shootings in the country."

But a recent New York Times/Siena College poll from Wisconsin found that less than 1% of registered voters said crime was a top concern as they weigh their presidential options. Meanwhile, violent crime this year is down and murder rates are plunging nationwide, the FBI said earlier this month.

Trump's appearance in Racine marks his second to southeast Wisconsin in less than two months, underscoring the importance of the region in the battle ahead. Two of Biden's four trips to Wisconsin this year have also put him in the same corner of the Badger State.

One of those included an official White House visit to Racine just 20 minutes from where Trump will hold his rally Tuesday. On that visit, Biden spoke at a site where his predecessor once promoted an investment by the Taiwan-based electronics giant Foxconn that later failed.

"Foxconn turned out to be just that - a con," Biden said. "Go figure."

ABC7 Chicago's Craig Wall contributed to this report.

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