In her first excursion to a battleground state since she became the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Senator Kamala Harris met privately in Wisconsin on Monday with the family of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot repeatedly in the back by police officers.
Family members at the meeting included Mr. Blake’s father and sisters; his mother and Mr. Blake himself participated by phone.
The police shooting of Mr. Blake in Kenosha, Wis., last month set off major protests there, which President Trump has seized on to support his exaggerated claims that the country is being consumed by violence. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee, responded by condemning looting and rioting while expressing support for peaceful racial-justice protesters.
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Vice President Mike Pence used a Labor Day visit to one of the most crucial battleground states to attack Joseph R. Biden Jr. for criticizing law enforcement, claiming that Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, would perpetuate “polices that have literally led to violence in our major American cities.”
Appearing in western Wisconsin less than a week after President Trump visited Kenosha, Wis., which has endured arson and looting after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Mr. Pence scorned Mr. Biden for not criticizing Democratic mayors or mentioning Antifa by name in his condemnation of violence.
The vice president said Mr. Trump had “quelled the violence” by sending in federal troops to assist local law enforcement.
While acknowledging that the police use of force should be “thoroughly investigated,” Mr. Pence did not mention Mr. Blake and instead focused on the violent aftermath of his shooting.
“Rioting and looting is not peaceful protest, burning businesses is not free speech,” he said, vowing that those who do so “will be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.”
Republicans have sought to elevate the issue of law an order to make up ground against Mr. Biden, who has enjoyed a steady lead in the polls in Wisconsin, a state that Mr. Trump carried by less than a point in 2016. Mr. Biden has responded by airing a commercial, here, and in other swing states, that features footage of him from his speech in Pittsburgh, in which he spoke out against violence.
Labor Day is the traditional kickoff to the fall campaign season, but this year the holiday represents something more: the first time both candidates for vice president will be on the trail on the same day in the same state.
Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris on Monday will be on opposite ends of Wisconsin, a battleground that’s increasingly essential to President Trump’s electoral map.
Why Wisconsin is so important
While Democrats would relish reclaiming Wisconsin after Hillary Clinton’s narrow loss there in 2016, it’s more imperative for Mr. Trump to keep it in his column. If he holds every other state he captured in 2016, the president must win at least one of the three pivotal Big Ten states to claim re-election: Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. With his campaign increasingly concerned about his ability to win again in Michigan, where it has cut its advertising, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania loom even larger. And if Mr. Biden can run just slightly stronger in the state of his birth and early childhood than Mrs. Clinton did and win Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump’s hopes may rest entirely on Wisconsin.
Pence and Harris will visit very different parts of the state
The vice president is speaking to employees at the Dairyland Power Cooperative in La Crosse, a heavily white city at the western edge of the state. Ms. Harris is visiting with union workers and leaders as well as African-American businesspeople and pastors in Milwaukee, the Black hub of the state. They are both expected to focus on the economy.
Yet their political missions are different. The vice president is hoping to appeal to voters in a historically Democratic part of Wisconsin, where Mr. Trump outperformed his Republican predecessors, in hopes they abandon their political roots again. Ms. Harris, for her part, is hoping to rouse Black Democrats in a city where far fewer of them showed up in 2016 than in former President Barack Obama’s two winning campaigns.
Harris makes a swing-state debut
Ms. Harris’s trip on Monday will be the first time she has appeared with battleground state voters and, really, the first time she has been in any sort of spontaneous setting since she was chosen. Such forums are not her forte — she’s better working from prepared remarks — so Mr. Biden’s top aides will be keeping a close eye on how closely she sticks to her talking points. That could help shape the nature of the events she does in the final stretch of the campaign.
The presidential campaign, long muffled by the coronavirus pandemic, will burst into a newly intense and public phase after Labor Day, with Joseph R. Biden Jr. moving aggressively to defend his polling lead against a ferocious onslaught by President Trump aimed chiefly at white voters in the Midwest.
Private polls conducted for both parties during and after their August conventions found the race largely stable but tightening slightly in some states, with Mr. Trump recovering some support from conservative-leaning rural voters who had drifted away over the summer.
But Mr. Biden continues to enjoy advantages with nearly every other group, especially in populous areas where the virus remains at the forefront for voters, according to people briefed on the data.
No president has entered Labor Day weekend — the traditional kickoff of the fall campaign — as such a clear underdog since George H.W. Bush in 1992. Mr. Trump has not led in public polls in such must-win states as Florida since Mr. Biden claimed the nomination in April, and there has been little fluctuation in the race.
Still, the president’s surprise win in 2016 weighs heavily in the thinking of nervous Democrats and hopeful Republicans alike.
Mr. Trump’s effort to revive his candidacy by blaming Mr. Biden’s party for scenes of looting and arson in American cities has jolted Mr. Biden into a more proactive posture, one that some Democrats have long urged him to adopt.
The former vice president spent last week pushing back forcefully on Mr. Trump’s often false attacks, after encouragement from allies including former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whose 2004 presidential campaign faltered in the face of a concerted smear campaign about his Vietnam War service.
Both parties see Mr. Trump with a narrow path to re-election that runs through heavily white states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, where his strategy of racial division could help him catch Mr. Biden. But the president is also on defense in diverse Southern and Western states he carried in 2016, including Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia.
President Trump has made it clear over the last few days that, in his view, the country’s real race problem is bias against white Americans.
Just days after returning from Kenosha, Wis., where he staunchly backed law enforcement and did not mention the name of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot seven times in the back by the police, Mr. Trump issued an order on Friday to purge the federal government of racial sensitivity training that his White House called “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
The president then spent much of the weekend tweeting about his action, presenting himself as a warrior against identity politics. “This is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue,” he wrote of such programs. “Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!” He reposted a tweet from a conservative outlet hailing his order: “Sorry liberals! How to be Anti-White 101 is permanently cancelled!”
Not in generations has a sitting president so overtly declared himself the candidate of white America.
While Mr. Trump’s campaign sought to temper the culture war messaging at the Republican National Convention last month by showcasing Black and Hispanic supporters who denied that he is a racist, the president himself has increasingly made appeals to the grievances of white supporters a centerpiece of his campaign to win a second term.
The message appears designed to galvanize supporters who have cheered what they see as a defiant stand against political correctness since the days when he kicked off his last presidential campaign in 2015 by denouncing, without evidence, Mexicans crossing the border as “rapists.”
While he initially voiced concern over the killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis this spring, which touched off nationwide protests, he has focused since then almost entirely on defending the police and condemning demonstrations during which there have been outbreaks of looting and violence.
“Trump is the most extreme, and he has done something that is beyond the bounds of anything we have seen,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Playing with racism is a dangerous game. It’s not that you can do it a little bit or do it slyly or do it with a dog whistle. It’s all dangerous, and it’s all potentially violent.”
President Trump routinely referred to Black leaders of foreign nations with racist insults. He had an abiding admiration for President Vladimir V. Putin’s willingness to treat Russia like a personal business. And he was consumed with hatred for President Barack Obama.
Those are the descriptions that Michael D. Cohen, a former personal lawyer and self-described fixer for Mr. Trump, lays out in his book, “Disloyal: A Memoir,” which paints the president as a sordid, moblike figure willing to engage in underhanded tactics against anyone opposing him.
“As a rule, Trump expressed low opinions of all Black folks, from music to culture and politics,” Mr. Cohen writes in the book, to be released Tuesday. He describes Mr. Trump calling Nelson Mandela, who led the emancipation of South Africa from white minority rule, “no leader.”
“Tell me one country run by a Black person that isn’t a shithole,” Mr. Cohen quotes Mr. Trump as saying. He also alleges that Mr. Trump called Kwame Jackson, a Black contestant on his reality TV show “The Apprentice,” a homophobic slur, and that he had deep disgust with Black leaders in addition to celebrities and sports figures.
He also was obsessed with Mr. Obama, Mr. Cohen writes. The book describes Mr. Trump hiring “a Faux-Bama, or fake Obama, to record a video where Trump ritualistically belittled the first Black president and then fired him, a kind of fantasy fulfillment that it was hard to imagine any adult would spend serious money living out — until he did the functional equivalent in the real world.”
The video Mr. Cohen describes appears to be a recording that was supposed to be shown the first night of the Republican National Convention in 2012, when Mr. Trump had endorsed the party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and insisted on having time during the programming.
President Trump was proudly litigious before his victory in 2016 and has remained so in the White House. But one big factor has changed: He has drawn on campaign donations as a piggy bank for his legal expenses to a degree far greater than any of his predecessors.
In New York, Mr. Trump dispatched a team of lawyers to seek damages of more than $1 million from a former campaign worker after she claimed she had been the target of sexual discrimination and harassment by another aide. The lawyers have been paid $1.5 million by the Trump campaign for work on the case and others related to the president.
In Washington, Mr. Trump and his campaign affiliates hired lawyers to assist members of his staff and family — including a onetime bodyguard, his oldest son and his son-in-law — as they were pulled into investigations related to Russia and Ukraine. The Republican National Committee has paid at least $2.5 million in legal bills to the firms that did this and other legal work.
In California, Mr. Trump sued to block a law that would have forced him to release his taxes if he wanted to run for re-election. The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have paid the law firm handling this case, among others, $1.8 million.
Mr. Trump’s tendency to turn to the courts — and the legal issues that have stemmed from norm-breaking characteristics of his presidency — helps explain how he and his affiliated political entities have spent at least $58.4 million in donations on legal and compliance work since 2015, according to a tally by The New York Times and the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.
By comparison, President Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee spent $10.7 million on legal and compliance expenses during the equivalent period starting in 2007. President George W. Bush also spent much less, even taking into account his legal spending on the recount fight that went to the Supreme Court, records show.
The spending on behalf of Mr. Trump covers not only legal work that would be relatively routine for any president or candidate and some of the costs related to the Russia inquiry and his impeachment, but also cases in which he has a personal stake, including attempts to enforce nondisclosure agreements and protect his business interests.