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Trump visits Midwest battleground as DNC kicks off

APPLETON, Wisconsin — Seeking to divert attention from the Democratic National Convention that had been planned for Milwaukee, President Donald Trump is traveling to the battleground state of Wisconsin on Monday where he’ll face a familiar foe: women in Republican-leaning suburbs who overwhelmingly disapprove of him and his handling of the coronavirus.

Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016. He is currently trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by five percentage points among likely voters in the state and plans to attack Biden’s economic “failures” at a scaled-down campaign rally at an airplane hangar in Oshkosh, just south of Green Bay in northeast Wisconsin.

The critical swing region, known as the Fox River Valley, suffered a rash of virus outbreaks around meat processing plants in April.

Despite the president’s claims that the “suburban housewife” is on his side and Biden “will destroy the suburbs,” Trump is trailing Biden by 20 points among suburban women in Wisconsin.

“I’m not on his side,” said Erin Argall, 39, of Appleton. She voted for Trump in 2016 but now plans to vote for Biden. “I mean, I have a job, but I’m the most typical suburban housewife — white, affluent, little kids, my husband has a good job. We’re not voting for him,” she said.

The president’s trip to Wisconsin — the second stop in a swing through Minnesota, Arizona and Pennsylvania, all states where he trails Biden in polls — comes as his approval among suburban women nationwide continues to drop. Biden has also largely eliminated Trump’s advantage with white voters, who led Trump to victory in 2016, according to a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll.

Argall, a Christian and lifelong Republican who has long been frustrated with the president’s name-calling, attacks on his foes and rhetoric toward women, described the president’s handling of the coronavirus as “erratic” and a failure of leadership.

“I cringe when I hear him speak because he makes no sense,” she said, noting the president’s continued claims that the virus “will go away.”

“And now we’ve lost thousands and thousands of lives,” Argall said. Just more than 1,000 people have died in Wisconsin from COVID-19, which has killed more than 167,000 people across the country in all.

READ MORE:Trust in Trump sinks over COVID-19 as Biden support grows

Perhaps most important, Argall said, is that Biden is better equipped to lead the country out of the current economic crisis — a small gut punch to the president’s planned message to Wisconsinites on Monday, though a slight majority of Wisconsin voters currently approve of the president’s handling of the economy.

But Trump still enjoys deep support in the state’s most politically divided region. Mary Brock, 62, of Appleton, said the president was handling the virus as best he could.

“Everyone wants to blame Trump, but I don’t know how much I trust Fauci either,” she said, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert who Trump has at times criticized for contradicting him.

State GOP and Trump campaign officials acknowledge any depressed turnout in the state’s conservative northeast threatens Trump’s chances in Wisconsin, especially after Democrats drove turnout in the region to flip a state Supreme Court seat earlier this year and hold a U.S. Senate seat in 2018. More than a dozen women in the region who voted for Trump in 2016 said in recent interviews that they were currently undecided.

“Wisconsin is balancing on such a knife’s edge that anywhere you lose voters it’s a risk,” GOP strategist Brian Reisinger said.

Democrats have criticized the president’s trip to Wisconsin and say Biden is heeding health concerns by not visiting the state during the DNC.

“It has to be a sad place for an incumbent president to react so desperately and recklessly,” said Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat.

But Trump’s advisers predict virus cases will decline ahead of November, and polls will tighten, though the White House has been warning governors on private calls of possible surges in the Midwest, home to some of the most critical battleground states.

“Unlike Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton four years ago, President Trump will never snub Wisconsin,” Trump campaign senior adviser Steve Cortes said. “He’s going there to demonstrate that he’s a commander in chief working hard to build our great American renewal.”

Marcia Steele is chair of the Democratic party in Winnebago County, which includes the site of Trump’s Monday rally. She’s also an urgent care nurse who has seen a stream of COVID-19 cases in the area. ”If he has a significant crowd,” Steele said of Trump’s Oshkosh event, “it’s likely that I will be swabbing them within 12 to 14 days.”