Vice President Mike Pence exits Air Force Two on Thursday in Eau Claire.
Vice President Mike Pence waves as he steps off Air Force Two Thursday morning in Eau Claire. (Screenshot via WEAU)

Vice President makes his case at a stop in Eau Claire, his fourth visit to Wisconsin.

Despite an estimated 28 million Americans receiving or waiting for some form of unemployment assistance and a quarter-million fewer manufacturing jobs in the United States than when President Trump took office, his vice president focused on pre-pandemic job figures during remarks Thursday in Eau Claire to make the case for re-electing a ticket that enjoyed economic success prior to the outbreak. 

Mike Pence noted the country had added nearly half-a-million manufacturing jobs before the coronavirus outbreak, claiming Trump was responsible for economic growth that had begun eight years earlier under President Barack Obama.

Pence highlighted the millions of jobs that have returned since the start of the pandemic. While continuing claims for unemployment assistance have fallen from nearly 25 million to around 12 million, many of those Americans are still not working and have been moved to extended unemployment assistance and other pandemic relief programs in danger of running out soon

“In President Trump, you have a president who admires people who make things. He is a champion of manufacturing,” Pence told an audience of nearly 100 wearing face masks gathered at Midwest Manufacturing’s countertops facility, a part of the Menards home improvement chain that is headquartered in the town of Union just west of Eau Claire. 

Pence’s stop in Eau Claire was his fourth trip to the swing-state of Wisconsin. During a  33-minute address, Pence touched on recent passing of Ruth Bader Gindburg, Wednesday’s ruling concerning Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and efforts to combat COVID-19. 

But Pence spent much of the time discussing jobs and the economy. 

“The president said we would bring back our factories, our jobs,” Pence said. “That’s just what we’ve done. We’ve made America great again.”

However, according to a CNN analysis and other media accounts, Trump has fallen far short of his 2016 campaign promise to add 700,000 new manufacturing jobs as president. As of February, before the coronavirus pandemic forced an economic slowdown, 483,000 manufacturing jobs had been added during Trump’s time as president. 

That total shrank dramatically when COVID-19 hit the United States. Figures released in August show that 237,000 of those jobs have been lost under Trump. Trade tariffs the president has imposed have hurt the manufacturing sector, analysts said.

Trump also claimed he would lead a revival of the coal industry, adding jobs in that sector too. But statistics show that has not occurred either. 

Pence contrasted the president’s economic plan with that of his Democratic challenger in the Nov. 3 presidential election, Joe Biden, saying Biden’s plan will raise taxes and increase regulations on businesses, slowing economic growth in the process.

“Joe Biden wants to bury the government in red tape,” Pence said in reference to rules that could restrict business operations.  

At a campaign stop in Manitowoc on Monday, Biden aligned himself with middle-class America, saying his “Build Back Better” plan would provide more opportunities to those workers than under Trump. He said Trump has failed to live up to his promise to revive the country’s manufacturing base. 

“The simple truth is that Donald Trump ran for office saying he would represent the forgotten men and women of this country – and then once in office, he forgot them,” Biden said.

Pence and other speakers at the event, including Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, and 7th US Congressional District Rep. Tom Tiffany, praised Trump’s commitment to creating jobs for working-class people.

Analysts say Trump’s record on middle-class workers is mixed, while lower-class earners say they have struggled financially during Trump’s time as president. But his policies have benefitted wealthy business owners, statistics show. 

According to a report published by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, billionaires in America made a collective $565 billion during the first three months of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, many people across the country are struggling financially, with some having lost jobs and worrying how they will pay their bills. 

That same trend is occurring in Wisconsin, according to a joint report from Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Americans for Tax Fairness, and Health Care For America Now that analyzed Forbes’ World’s Billionaires List. The report shows that from March 18 to June 17, the net worth of Wisconsin’s eight billionaires– including Menard –grew a collective 36.1 percent, or $14.2 billion, between March 18 and June 17.

During that time, the report shows, Menard earned $7.46 billion, the most in Wisconsin.

Eau Claire resident Lori Kaufman said she supports Trump in part because she believes his economic policies have led to added jobs and will continue to do so. She said she backs his implementing tariffs, saying previous trade agreements weren’t fair to American workers. 

“I know the job numbers took a hit with the coronavirus,” Kaufman said, “but I believe President Trump’s approach is what we need for our economy to recover.” 

In contrast, Bonni Knight, who lives in the town of Seymour, was among a group of 10 protesters who stood with anti-Trump signs along Highway 12 near where the vice president spoke. 

“There are a lot of reasons to protest Donald Trump, and the economy is one of them,” she said. ”To me, it’s everything. He is destroying things every which way.”  

During his address, Pence praised the work of longtime Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying she paved the way for women. But he promised that Trump will nominate a consersvative woman justice to replace her soon. 

Pence defended police and decried looting in Minneapolis, Kenosha and other locations in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. He referenced the two Louisville, Kentucky police officers shot Wednesday after the announcement that officers would not face charges for killing Breonna Taylor.

“President Donald Trump has stood every single day with the men and women who serve on the thin blue line of enforcement, and he always will,” Pence said.

The vice president acknowledged challenges combatting COVID-19, but he praised Trump’s handling of the situation. A vaccine for the contagious virus should be ready by the end of this year, Pence predicted. 

However, many, including Washington Post investigative journalist Bob Woodward, have criticized Trump’s initial downplaying of the seriousness of the virus and his failure to address it, leading to many preventable deaths. More than 200,000 people in the US have died from the virus, and cases continue to grow across the country, prompting the closure of schools in some locations.     

Pence’s Eau Claire visit comes as political analysts expect a tightly fought battle for the presidency in Wisconsin, considered to be among the key states in determining whether Republican President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden is elected.  

Political analysts say west-central Wisconsin is among the most evenly split politically in the state, and is likely to receive additional visits by political candidates leading to the Nov. 3 election. Biden and Trump are working to appeal to working-class voters in the region, they said.

Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016, becoming the first Republican to win a presidential election in the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Trump’s opponent in 2016, Democrat Hillary Clinton, won Eau Claire County that year by fewer than 4,000 votes. 

[Editor’s Note: This story was modified to correct the location of the event from the Town of Seymour to the Town of Union.]