Biden Returns To A Deteriorating Wisconsin Bridge For An Election-Year Pitch On Policy Achievements

President Joe Biden speaks near the John A. Blatnik Bridge between Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Superior, Wis. Biden is returning to the swing state of Wisconsin to announce $5 billion in federal funding for upgrading the Blatnik Bridge and for dozens of similar infrastructure projects nationwide. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Joe Biden speaks near the John A. Blatnik Bridge between Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Superior, Wis. Biden is returning to the swing state of Wisconsin to announce $5 billion in federal funding for upgrading the Blatnik Bridge and for dozens of similar infrastructure projects nationwide. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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SUPERIOR, Wis. (AP) — President Joe Biden returned to the deteriorating John A. Blatnik Memorial Bridge on Thursday to make the case that his administration is following through on its pledge to fix the critical link between the port cities of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota.

Biden, who visited the bridge at the tip of Lake Superior two years ago when he promoted his $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, used his election-year stop to announce nearly $5 billion in federal money for the bridge and dozens of infrastructure projects nationwide.

With Biden trying to persuade voters to reward him for his achievements, the Democrat's latest pitch came in a critical swing state that is part of the “blue wall” of states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where he defeated Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

“For decades, people talked about replacing this bridge, but it never got done. Until today." Biden said at Superior's Earth Rider Brewery after visiting with iron workers and local officials at the bridge. “This bridge is important, but the story we’re writing is much bigger than that,” Biden said.

More than 33,000 vehicles travel on the Blatnik Bridge every day, but heavy trucks are barred because of its decaying condition and that has caused lengthy detours. Without additional federal dollars, the bridge would have had to shut down by 2030, according to the White House. It is getting $1 billion for upgrades and repairs, with construction set to begin in 2025.

Though the visit was not officially a campaign event, Biden's sharpened focus on Wisconsin with the election less than 10 months away highlights its place as one of a shrinking handful of genuine battleground states.

Four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point in Wisconsin, with Trump winning narrowly in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton before losing to Biden by a similar margin in 2020.

All signs point to Wisconsin remaining nearly evenly divided, even as Democrats have made gains in recent elections. A Marquette Law School poll released in November showed the 2024 presidential race to be a toss-up with the election a year away.

Biden made the case that Wisconsin and Minnesota have fared better under his watch than under Trump's because of his administration's focus on helping the middle class through measures such as the infrastructure bill. Wisconsin's unemployment rate stands at 3.3% and Minnesota's is at 2.9%.

“My predecessor though he chose a different course — trickle down economics, cut taxes for the very wealthy, big corporations, increasing the deficit significantly,” said Biden, who later visited the Superior Fire Department Local 74 to thank first responders and drop off coffee and baked goods.

Democratic leaders in Wisconsin have stressed the importance of Biden visiting the state. Clinton’s defeat in 2016 was blamed in part on the fact that she never campaigned in Wisconsin after winning the Democratic nomination.

“He needs to be here, simple as that,” Democratic Gov. Tony Evers told The Associated Press in an interview this month.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan said he has told Biden that he must visit Wisconsin to highlight his investments in roads, bridges and broadband internet expansion and his efforts to bring down inflation and fight climate change.

“He wants to do that,” Pocan said. “He certainly understands the importance of Wisconsin.”

Before Biden's visit, the White House and its allies called out Rep. Peter Stauber, R-Minn., who has cited the bridge repair as a win for his district and has taken credit for advocating for the project's funding. Stauber, however, voted against the infrastructure bill.

“This is too brazen to ignore. Mr. Stauber voted against every screw, steel beam, and concrete pire in this bridge,” Gov. Tim Walz, D-Minn., posted on X, formerly Twitter. He said Biden "worked with Stauber’s colleagues and got it done without him.”

Stauber defended his role, saying in a statement that the Biden administration did not select Minnesota's first application for bridge money, “which is why my advocacy was necessary.”

While in Superior, Biden noted that some Republicans had voted for the infrastructure legislation but that the “vast majority voted against it.”

“But you know what? That’s OK,” Biden said. “Because we’re building projects everywhere, no matter whether they voted for it or not.”

It was Biden's eighth trip to Wisconsin as president and his second to Superior, a city of 27,000 people along the shores of Lake Superior just across the border from Minnesota.

Democrats in Wisconsin have been on a winning streak. They have won 14 of the past 17 statewide elections, including Biden in 2020.

Democrats have been able to chip into the once-reliably conservative Milwaukee suburbs that saw GOP support drop in the Trump era. Democrats also capitalized on population gains in Dane County, home to the liberal capital city of Madison and the University of Wisconsin.

The Democratic moves have been able to help offset Republican gains made in rural areas during the Trump era.

Republicans chose Milwaukee for their national convention in July, with Democrats gathering just across the border the following month in Chicago.

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Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.