On a trip to Superior, Wisconsin, Joe Biden looks to recapture a key Democratic stronghold

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SUPERIOR — With Donald Trump on the verge of winning the Republican nomination for president, Pres Joe Biden It returns to an area of ​​the country devastated by industrial outsourcing and a symbol of the battle before him.

On Thursday, Biden will visit the Wisconsin border city of Superior in the northwestern corner of the state, across Bay St. Louis on Lake Superior from Duluth, Minnesota — two blue-collar communities that once relied on heavy industry and mining and are now surrounded by trees. An area that has become more favorable to Trump as those jobs evaporate.

“This was the Democratic hard core,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at Hubert Humphrey College and the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota. “Over the last 20 years or so, that stronghold has disappeared.”

Biden will visit Earth Rider Brewery in Superior and plans to discuss how his administration will “rebuild our infrastructure, reduce costs, stimulate small business prosperity, and create good-paying jobs,” according to the White House.

His visit comes days after federal officials announced $1 billion in new funding to replace the 60-year-old Blatnik Bridge on Interstate 535, which connects Superior to Duluth. Funding for the bridge, which spans Bay St. Louis, will come from a bipartisan infrastructure bill that is part of a $4.9 billion investment in 37 transportation infrastructure projects across the country that Biden plans to promote during Thursday’s visit.

The Blatnik Bridge, which connects Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, across Bay St. Louis, serves as an example of the country's needed infrastructure modernization.  President Joe Biden visited the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellow Jacket Union in Superior on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, and detailed the passage of the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill to improve the state's roads, bridges and job market.

Funding for the projects, which Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg described this week as “the next generation of cathedrals of American infrastructure” that will help shape the economy, includes $8 million to expand a safe truck rest stop on I-90 in Sparta. .

Investment in the Blatnik Bridge is the largest project that Biden will highlight Thursday. The bridge carries 33,000 vehicles daily worth billions of dollars in freight each year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

“Jobs are a big challenge in this part of Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Jacobs said. “Trump used that to his advantage. It’s the protectionist program that Trump had that played beautifully in this district. It’s just the kind of thing he can use to attract independents and people who might have been Democrats at one point.”

Biden’s stop is one of three stops the president or senior administration officials have made in Wisconsin this week alone — signaling a focus on the battleground state as the 2024 election begins. Vice President Kamala Harris made clear on a visit to Waukesha County on Monday that abortion rights She will remain central to the race for the White House, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is scheduled to arrive in Milwaukee on Friday to highlight Biden’s job creation efforts.

The president has put recent economic growth and infrastructure investments at the forefront of his bid to retain the White House, though many Americans, including Wisconsinites, remain skeptical and have not given him credit for the improvements. a Marquette University Law Survey Wisconsin voters in November found that only 27% of respondents described the economy as “excellent” or “good,” while 36% described it as “not good” and 37% described it as “bad.”

However, the economy has improved in the past few months, with inflation declining as the effects of the Covid pandemic slowly fade. The national unemployment rate hovers around 3.7%, and in Wisconsin, the unemployment rate fell from 4.6% at the beginning of 2021 to 3.3% at the beginning of this year, according to the White House.

Meanwhile, Biden and his team have consistently tried to send a message of improvement and investment directly to voters, largely through stops like Thursday’s in Superior.

“We believe the president is the best messenger,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If he can go to a state, or a rural district, or go to Superior, Wisconsin, and talk about a project that we invested in because of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which the president fought for… I think that’s important.”

But Republicans sought to dispel these notions.

“I hope people will open their eyes and realize what a disaster his rule has been for their lives, for their families, for their well-being, and for this nation,” Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson told the Journal Sentinel before Biden’s visit.

Jacobs, the University of Minnesota professor, said Biden likely chose the district to galvanize Democrats in Duluth, Minnesota’s fifth-most populous city where Biden’s support remains strong.

“If Joe Biden wins Minnesota again…they’re going to need Duluth’s support and they’re going to need a good turnout in Duluth” in order to chip away at Trump’s support in the region, he said. Combined with the dual support Biden received in Douglas, Bayfield and Ashland counties in Wisconsin in 2020, the visit is a “strategic and effective trip,” Jacobs said.

Biden won the state of Wisconsin in 2020 by about 21,000 votes, and he also won Minnesota by more than 230,000 votes.

Small Democratic cities like Superior served as A factor in Trump’s victory in Wisconsin – Cities like Gainesville, Platteville, Portage, Prairie du Chien, Ashland, Kenosha, Washburn, Beloit, Black River Falls, and Baraboo. Trump lost these cities, but by a smaller percentage than the Republicans lost in 2012, which made them key to his narrow victory in 2016 by about 23,000 votes over Hillary Clinton.

But these same communities that have been disappointing to Democrats could pose a major challenge to Trump’s re-election because these cities have been swinging back toward the Democratic Party since 2016. Many of them have returned to “pre-Trump” voting patterns, resulting in a strong Democratic showing. In the 2018 midterm elections and in the last elections as well.

“He could take these two isolated blue islands in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin and try to start drumming up support and mobilizing voters,” Jacobs said.

Molly Beck can be reached at molly.beck@jrn.com.

This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: In a trip to Superior, Biden is looking to recapture a key Democratic stronghold

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