Biden seeks to 'bring together' strife-torn city in visit to Wisconsin battleground

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will make his first campaign venture into a strife-torn American city on Thursday when he travels to Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has become the latest battleground over police brutality and racial injustice.

President Donald , his opponent in the Nov. 3 election, has increasingly made civil unrest a central theme of his re-election campaign. Biden's camp says his visit to Kenosha, however, will aim to "bring together Americans to heal" by convening a community meeting in the city where tensions remain high following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police last week.

The visit marks a distinct change in tactics for the former vice president. Biden has largely avoided traveling far from his Delaware home, arguing the coronavirus pandemic required caution.

visited Kenosha to back law enforcement earlier in the week against the wishes of local leaders who worried he would inflame the situation. He did not meet with Blake, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a white police officer fired at his back seven times on Aug. 23, or with Blake’s family.

Instead, suggested that Democrats like Biden condoned the violent protests, which has at times disrupted peaceful demonstrations, even as Biden has condemned violence several times.

The president also defended the actions of a 17-year-old supporter who has been charged with killing two people and wounding another with a semi-automatic rifle during a clash in Kenosha with anti-racism advocates.

Biden, in turn, has accused of stoking conflict to frighten voters and aid his re-election.

“Donald looks at this violence and sees a political lifeline,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday.

The protests that have flared nationwide since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May have placed Biden at times in a difficult political position. He, along with his running mate, Kamala Harris, have praised the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement, but have not embraced its goals of de-funding or even eliminating local police departments.

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That has not prevented the campaign from suggesting Biden is in lockstep with the movement.

“These are left-wing radicals aligned with his party’s extreme anti-police wing, and they are in control of the Democratic Party, and therefore in control of Joe Biden,” spokesman Tim Murtaugh said on Wednesday.

Wisconsin is a critical battleground in the fight for the White House. edged out Democrat there four years ago, and while opinion polls show Biden with a lead in the state, 's campaign has made retaining it a top priority.

, meanwhile, will visit another swing state crucial to his re-election when he makes a campaign stop in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on Thursday.

won Pennsylvania by just 45,000 votes in 2016. Recent polls show him trailing Biden in that state as well, although there are indications the race there is tightening.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Michael Martina; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis)

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