- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin is about to take center stage in the presidential race.

Donald Trump is headed Friday to the critical Fox Valley region for his first visit to the state since losing its primary and refusing to endorse fellow Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Just hours before Trump’s rally Friday night, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine was to talk about Hillary Clinton’s job plans at a brewery in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee.

The decisions on where the candidates are choosing to campaign in their first stops in Wisconsin speak to their strategies as Democrats try to keep alive a presidential winning streak in the state dating back to 1988.

The Kaine visit to Milwaukee, home to the largest pocket of Democratic voters in the state, is all about rallying the base to volunteer and vote in November, said strategist Joe Zepecki. Milwaukee County is the only one Clinton won in the April primary. Bernie Sanders beat her by 13 points statewide.

Trump’s going to Green Bay - an area that has swung between voting for Democrats and Republicans for president over the past 20 years - is about trying to make the state more competitive by driving up GOP turnout, said Zepecki, a Democrat.

Given that both Trump and Kaine are coming to Wisconsin, a week after Trump’s running mate Mike Pence held a rally in conservative Waukesha, shows that at least for now the state still matters to both campaigns, said Charles Franklin, a pollster at the Marquette University Law School.

The most recent Marquette poll, released in July, showed Clinton ahead of Trump among likely voters by 4 points.

Both campaigns were expected to focus on the Green Bay media market, which is home to just under one quarter of the state’s registered voters. A large number of them - 36 percent according to a 2014 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh survey - are independent.

The area has tended to swing widely in recent presidential elections, with Democrats winning in 1996 and 2008. In 2000 and 2004, when Democrats narrowly carried Wisconsin statewide, George W. Bush won the Green Bay area by 9 and 11 points, respectively.

In 2012, President Barack Obama lost Brown County, which is home to Green Bay, by just 2,310 votes to Republican Mitt Romney.

Trump won just 37 percent of the vote in Brown County in this year’s primary. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the county by 14 points, a margin nearly identical to his statewide 13-point victory.

In recognition of the importance of the area, both state parties held their annual conventions in Green Bay this year. The congressional seat is open, due to the retirement of Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, adding even more intensity and focus in the region.

Ribble, a three-term congressman, was one of the first Republican office holders to publicly disavow Trump. Ribble said in December he wouldn’t back Trump, and he’s been outspoken in denouncing Trump’s most controversial statements and policies.

Ribble isn’t the only Republican office-holder who won’t be with Trump. Ryan planned to be in his congressional district in southeastern Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker is to be touring flood damage in the northern part of the state, and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson cited scheduling conflicts.

All three are backing Trump, but they all have also been critical of him. Trump this week said he wasn’t ready to endorse Ryan in his primary race, and Walker has yet to appear alongside Trump since they ran against each other in the GOP primary for president.

Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Pat Garrett said Clinton lost to Sanders in Wisconsin because Democrats are “looking for real change in Washington, D.C., and they don’t trust Hillary Clinton to be anything beyond more of the same.”

Russ Feingold, the former three-term U.S. senator who is challenging Johnson in a rematch of their 2010 race, will not be joining Kaine. Feingold is unable to attend Friday but “he looks forward to campaigning with Senator Kaine and Secretary Clinton throughout the election,” said Feingold’s spokesman Michael Tyler.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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