NATIONAL NEWS

Biden visiting battleground states and expanding staff as his campaign tries to seize the offensive

Mar 8, 2024, 8:00 AM | Updated: Mar 9, 2024, 1:26 am

ROSE VALLEY, Pennsylvania (AP) — Fresh off his defiant State of the Union address, President Joe Biden on Friday laced into former President Donald Trump — by name this time — as he and his senior aides began barnstorming the country to aggressively sell his vision for a second term to voters.

The president is trying to ride the post-speech momentum to Pennsylvania and Georgia for campaign events in two critical battleground states that he flipped in 2020 and is hoping to keeping in his column this November. He arrived at a private home in the pivotal Philadelphia suburbs along with his wife, Jill Biden, to hold what his campaign billed as a “kitchen table” conversation with brothers Jack and David Cunicelli, the owners of 320 Market Cafe, and their families ahead of remarks to supporters at the local middle school. He’ll move on to New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Michigan next week.

Biden’s reelection campaign was almost giddy after the speech, vowing to stay on the offensive against Trump. Introducing her husband at Strath Haven Middle School, Jill Biden said, “Last night, Joe showed the world what I see every day.”

While Biden had referred only to his “predecessor” during Thursday’s speech before Congress, on Friday it was a different story on the campaign trail, as Biden and his wife laid into Trump for raising the deficit, rolling back abortion access and fomenting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.

He also blamed Trump for the coarsening of the country’s political discourse.

“When you ride down the street and there’s a Trump banner with an F-U on it and a little 6-year-old kid putting up his middle finger,” Biden said. “Did you ever think you’d hear people talk the way they do? It demeans who we are. That’s not America.”

Biden highlighted threats to in vitro fertilization in Alabama after a recent state Supreme Court ruling. “You know why it happened? I’ll tell you why. One reason: Donald Trump,” Biden said.

And Biden criticized Trump for sowing doubts about America’s commitments to its NATO allies and for hosting Hungary’s Victor Orban at his Florida estate on Friday. “You know who he’s meeting with today down in Mar-a-Lago? Orban of Hungary, who’s stated flatly that he doesn’t thinks democracy works, he’s looking for dictatorship. Only member of NATO. That’s who he’s meeting with,” Biden said.

“I see a future where we defend democracy, not diminish it.”

Jill Biden called Trump “dangerous,” said “he mocks women’s bodies and devalues our existence” and added, “And we can’t let him win.”

Biden joked that he got his “usual warm reception” from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican from Georgia, who heckled Biden to address the death of Laken Riley, a nursing student from Georgia. An immigrant from Venezuela who entered the U.S. illegally has been arrested and charged with Riley’s murder.

The president’s campaign announced Friday that he and Vice President Kamala Harris will visit every major swing state in coming days, while launching a $30 million, six-week advertising campaign on TV and digital platforms designed to highlight key themes from the State of the Union to Black, Asian and Hispanic communities.

Harris is making her own trips, first to Arizona to continue her nationwide tour to promote reproductive rights and then to Nevada for her own campaign stop.

That push will include buys during the NCAA basketball tournament, as Biden’s camp attempts to leverage high ratings, like it says it did when airing an ad promising to defend abortion rights during the recent Grammy Awards.

By the end of this month, the campaign expects to expand from 100 staff members in seven battleground states to more than 350, while also opening more than 100 field offices. Trump’s campaign is targeting essentially the same areas, looking to flip Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona after 2020 defeats there, while fending off Biden’s efforts to make inroads in North Carolina and Florida.

Biden’s campaign is seeking to hit Trump hard at a critical moment, when the former president is working to consolidate his party after the primary — and as more potentially persuadable voters begin coming to terms with the fact that November really will be a 2020 rematch.

“We know that he lost in 2020 and so, in order to win, he’s got to expand his base of voters to find new people to be with him and that is not something that he’s shown that he’s really focused on,” Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon said on a conference call with reporters Friday.

She also noted that, after former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley left the Republican presidential primary race, “instead of wrapping his arms around them — like we certainly have — Trump has really mocked her supporters.”

Biden’s reelection campaign said the first hour of the State of the Union prompted its best fundraising hour since it launched in 2023, and the next two hours each set new records. It did not say how much money it actually collected.

Speaking to reporters before taking off for Philadelphia on Friday, Biden did not commit to debating Trump, the likely Republican nominee, during the general election.

“It depends on his behavior,” Biden said.

Earlier this week, Trump challenged Biden to debates “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.” But he skipped all opportunities to spar with his Republican primary opponents, and he’s criticized the nonpartisan commission that organizes presidential debates. Televised debates have been a feature of every White House campaign since 1976.

The Trump campaign has also used his romp through the Republican primary to try to seize momentum of its own heading into November. A super PAC backing the former president has released an ad highlighting Biden’s age, 81, and declaring, “If Biden wins, can he even survive till 2029?”

Biden’s campaign said Thursday night’s speech showed that, rather than a contrast of age with the 77-year-old Trump, Biden is offering a stark policy choice with his predecessor.

“While he’s four years younger his ideas are old as hell,” Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said of Trump. ”He’s talking about fundamentally taking us backward as a country.”

Presidents traditionally take their State of the Union message on the road, but Biden’s sales pitch this year is more critical than ever as he tries to sell not only his policy achievements to a skeptical electorate but show that he is up to the task of the presidency.

Cabinet secretaries and senior White House officials are embarking on their own post-State of the Union travel blitz to amplify Biden’s message starting Friday and continuing throughout the coming weeks, hitting not only swing states but rural territory such as Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In his address at the Capitol, Biden took on an unusually fiery tone, contrasting his vision to that of “my predecessor” — Trump — more than a dozen times not just on policies such as health care and taxes but for his views on freedom and democracy, both in the U.S. and abroad.

As he gave live commentary on his social media site, Trump mocked Biden’s delivery — saying, “THIS IS LIKE A SHOUTING MATCH” — and defending his policies from Biden’s repeated jabs.

The Biden administration is parceling out chunks of Biden’s agenda for different Cabinet officials to promote in the coming weeks. Much of that will focus on how Biden’s policies have spurred key investments in communities nationwide, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveling to Philadelphia and Rhode Island in the coming weeks to promote bridge repairs and other infrastructure improvements.

The Cabinet travels include a heavy dose of climate policy, with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland planning to boost Biden’s climate policies at a conference in Florida on Monday. Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is crisscrossing the country — stopping in Florida, California and Oregon — to promote electrified school buses and other efforts to transition to a clean energy economy.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is headed to Kentucky next week to tout Biden’s efforts to bolster the economy in disadvantaged communities, while Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is hitting up Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to discuss education opportunities through Biden’s agenda.

____

AP writers Zeke Miller and Chris Megerian contributed from Washington.

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Biden visiting battleground states and expanding staff as his campaign tries to seize the offensive