EAU CLAIRE, WIS. – Donald Trump rallied several thousand supporters in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, continuing his recent push into states that long have been viewed as solidly Democratic in presidential politics.
“In just one week, we are going to win the great state of Wisconsin and we are going to win back the White House,” Trump said in his dinner-hour rally inside the W.L. Zorn Arena at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “It’s gonna happen, folks.”
While Wisconsin hasn’t backed a Republican for president since 1984, it finds itself part of a high-stakes, last-minute campaign detour.
The Republican nominee has surfaced recently in New Mexico, Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin in hopes of capitalizing on a recent fall in Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. In highlighting so-called blue states, he hopes to seize on the new FBI investigation related to Clinton’s e-mail use to pull off some upsets and escape the otherwise narrow path he has to the White House.
On Tuesday, Trump’s campaign announced a new, $25 million advertising investment in 12 states, including Wisconsin, that have mostly leaned toward Clinton. Clinton has responded with a renewed effort to hold on to states seen as part of her electoral base. Her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, campaigned in Appleton and Madison on Tuesday, and Chelsea Clinton was scheduled to be in the state Wednesday and Thursday.
Kaine at his Madison stop called Wisconsin “important politically” and promised the state would see more big-name Democrats in coming days.
Clinton has not campaigned here herself since clinching her party’s nomination, but she now plans to visit Michigan on Friday. And a Clinton-affiliated PAC is spending millions of dollars on late ad buys in Michigan and Colorado.
It’s still unclear to what extent this detour from the toss-up states reflects genuine opportunity for Trump — who has not yet locked down all the traditionally Republican states — to expand his national map. In Wisconsin, Clinton led Trump in the most recent poll, winning 48 percent to his 42 percent in surveys done last Thursday and Friday by Emerson College. A new Marquette University poll of the state is due to be released Wednesday.
The Clinton campaign is vowing it will hold off Trump in his newly targeted states. “We’re going to make sure those doors remain shut,” said Jesse Ferguson, Clinton’s deputy national press secretary.
In his 42-minute speech, Trump touched on the situation in neighboring Minnesota. “We just had news that in Minnesota that we are doing fantastic,” Trump said, without elaborating. When he asked who in the room was from Minnesota, a loud cheer went up.
“Wow, wow. Great,” Trump said. “That’s so nice.”
Trump ping-ponged from familiar campaign promises — building a wall along the Mexican border, cutting federal income taxes on businesses in half, “repealing and replacing Obamacare” — to repeated, harsh criticism of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Outside Zorn Arena before the rally, a long line of supporters waited to get inside the 3,400-capacity room. By the time Trump arrived, it was nearly full. On the other side of several police barricades, a smaller but still sizable group of demonstrators waved signs calling attention to allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against Trump by a number of women, his refusal to release his income tax returns, and his repeated praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Shannon Olson, a 40-year-old Eau Claire resident, brought his 11-year-old son to the rally. Both were wearing suits, and the boy was wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
“A month ago I thought, no way can Trump win Wisconsin,” said Olson, who works in advertising. “It’s surprising, but I think it’s in his reach.”
Among the chanting protesters across from the arena was Laura Hartley, a 22-year-old fifth-year senior from St. Paul. Hartley said she’s glad to hail from a state that looks even less likely to hand Trump a win, but she said she’s skeptical he could win Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin can be a little more unpredictable, but a lot of smart people live here,” said Hartley, holding a sign that read, “Not on my campus.” She laughed when Trump supporters began chanting “get a job” at protesters.
“We all have two jobs to pay for our overpriced school,” Hartley said.
Casey Raethke, a protester and a 21-year-old student from Pepin, Wis., said he was worried about minorities if Trump becomes president. “His hateful, violent rhetoric is making it dangerous for them,” he said.
Western Wisconsin consistently has given Trump his highest poll numbers in the state. But among the many hundreds of Trump supporters at the Tuesday rally, it was easy to find people who had driven over from Minnesota.
Ryan Zierke, 20, and a group of friends drove four hours from Morris in western Minnesota to see Trump. Zierke works for his father’s business, manufacturing metal pens for hog farms, and he said they have found themselves frequently outbid by Chinese companies.
“That brings home a lot of what Trump has been saying about trade and borders,” Zierke said.
Trump “stands for a lot of the same issues that I do,” said Tim Mrozek, a 56-year-old Brooklyn Park man now on disability after a career as an engineer. “Keeping the border safe, appointing conservative Supreme Court justices, abortion, stronger trade deals.”
Mrozek said he’s optimistic about Trump’s chances next week. “I’m feeling really good with the recent news about Clinton and the FBI,” he said.
It was a theme Trump hit repeatedly during his speech.
“One week, one week,” Trump said as he wound up, referring to Election Day.
The crowd chanted back: “President Trump! President Trump!”