Mike Pence in Waukesh
Vice President Mike Pence waves to supporters Tuesday afternoon before a speech at Weldall Manufacturing in Waukesha. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

The vice president’s visit is one of four Trump-related appearances in Wisconsin this week.

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday returned to Waukesha, about three months after he last visited the city and a couple weeks after he stopped in Eau Claire, to give a speech in which he repeated many of the same misleading or false claims he made in his vice presidential debate with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) last week and largely sidestepped the coronavirus pandemic.

Pence appeared at Weldall Manufacturing on the city’s south side as part of an all-out blitz in Wisconsin from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign as Trump seeks to regain lost ground in the polls just three weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election and make up for canceled rallies in Wisconsin following his COVID-19 diagnosis. Eric Trump visited Menomonee Falls and Milton on Monday, while Ivanka Trump was set to appear in Hilbert on Tuesday. Trump himself will speak Saturday in Janesville, less than two weeks after being released from the hospital.

Following an introduction from US Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville), Pence claimed he and Trump have “created the greatest economy the world has ever known,” likely in reference to the record-high stock market—which did not benefit many Americans—before the coronavirus pandemic.

Sue Leuedtke, a registered nurse from Mukwonago who attended Pence’s speech, said she believes Trump’s strongest argument for re-election is the state of the economy. 

“People have to remember how the economy is doing,” she said.

Since the pandemic hit, the economy has showed signs of rebounding, but it is not the “v-shaped recovery” the White House has claimed. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate, while better than the national rate of 7.9%, was still an enormous 6.1% as of August, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Workforce Development. The state’s jobless rate is now significantly lower than it was at its peak of 13.6% in April soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit, but it has yet to return to 3.4% as was seen in March. 

Pence, recognizing the 245th anniversary of the US Navy, highlighted Fincatieri Marine Group in Marinette, which this year won a massive shipbuilding contract worth up to $5.6 billion. Trump visited the shipbuilding facility in June

Pence went on to give a nod to Weldall Manufacturing as he touted manufacturing growth in Wisconsin during the first three years of Trump’s presidency. 

“Manufacturing and agriculture is the heart of the heartland,” Pence said.

Manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin have indeed grown slightly under President Trump—about 17,300 manufacturing jobs were added between January 2017 and December 2019, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis—but last year’s figures in the wake of Trump’s trade war with China were cause for alarm. The state lost 4,100 manufacturing jobs in 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in January. The trade war also took its toll on small farmers in Wisconsin, a reality only compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pence, like Trump in his most recent appearances in Wisconsin, did not mention the Racine County Foxconn project that Trump once referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world” after he helped bring the company to Wisconsin with a $4 billion subsidy package. The project has not come anywhere close to its originally proposed scope, and the state is now refusing to hand over subsidies because the company has gone completely out of the bounds of the contract it signed with Wisconsin.

The coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Trump’s weakest area in polls, did not get much play in Pence’s speech. He focused on Trump’s moves to restrict travel from China in February in the early days of the pandemic, baselessly claiming it saved thousands of American lives.

But Pence made no mention of anything that has happened in the past eight months as Trump continuously mismanaged the virus.

Gov. Tony Evers did mention the ongoing campaigning by the Pence-Trump ticket in a media briefing Tuesday. 

“It’s just bad thinking that we can have large gatherings even outside where no one is social distancing and no one is masked,” Evers said. 

Few in Pence’s audience of about 250 wore masks, though seats were somewhat spaced out at the outdoor event.

Trump, who announced Oct. 2 he had contracted COVID-19 and was discharged from Walter Reed Hospital three days later, is back on the campaign trail. He will be in Janesville Saturday. At a Florida rally Monday, Trump told supporters he was healthy enough to plunge into the crowd and give voters “a big fat kiss.”

“I know he was joking but good Lord,” Evers said. 

COVID-19 is spreading practically uncontrolled in Wisconsin. Since Sept.1, 344 Wisconsinites have died from the virus, bringing the total to 1,474, according to Department of Health Services data. Total cases have nearly doubled in that timeframe, exploding from 76,485 to 152,192.

The state set another single-day record for new cases Tuesday, with 3,279, according to the state Department of Health Services.

The pandemic has now infected 7.7 million Americans and killed 214,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Luedtke, the registered nurse, baselessly claimed the true death toll of COVID-19 is perhaps half what the CDC says because many coronavirus-attributed deaths have other contributing factors such as chronic diseases. However, the CDC says 95% of deaths it counts are directly attributable to COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death, while the remaining 5% “potentially could be indirectly related to COVID-19.”

As he did in the vice presidential debate, Pence lied about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s stance on defunding the police, a popular call among activists in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Biden has unequivocally rejected the stance, but Pence falsely claimed Biden supports it. 

The vice president also broadly claimed Democrats want to defund the police and called out Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whose proposed 2021 budget would eliminate 120 police officer positions. But in doing so, Pence left out the key fact that Barrett’s budget does not decrease police funding, and the cuts are being proposed to account for budget restraints created by the Republican-led state Legislature.