WARREN, Mich. (AP) — Joe Biden used suburban Detroit as a backdrop Wednesday to make a direct appeal to blue-collar workers who might have voted Republican four years ago but now regret it — attempting to rebuild the once solid Democratic “blue wall” that crumbled four years ago and helped catapult Donald Trump to the White House.
The former vice president's first pandemic-era campaign trips beyond his home in Delaware have been to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well as Michigan, an indication of how closely Biden’s electoral prospects are tied to his ability to win back those once reliably Democratic states.
Biden traveled to Warren, an area whose economy is heavily dependent on the auto industry, and pledged to rewrite tax codes to reward U.S. companies that invest in domestic manufacturing while imposing penalties on those that send jobs to other countries.
Last week, he went to Wisconsin and was followed quickly by running mate Kamala Harris, who held her own Labor Day events there. Biden hit Pennsylvania during the holiday and will be back on Friday.
Trump is countering with his own trip to Michigan on Thursday and also will be in Pennsylvania himself the following day.
Though the Biden campaign often emphasizes that it sees multiple ways to secure the 270 Electoral College votes it needs to win in November, the quickest path runs through Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“If Biden wins any of them — but particularly any two, with some of the other states that are in play — it’s pretty impossible for Trump to win the Electoral College,” said veteran Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. “It makes tremendous sense to make those three states the base foundation of any strategy to win. If Biden wins all three, it’s over.”
Biden’s aides believe his focus on the economy and Trump’s handling of the coronavirus will resonate with key voters nationwide but particularly in states like Michigan, which took one of the sharpest hits nationally from the pandemic.
The unemployment rate in the state spiked at 24% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The statewide rate has since recovered to 8.7%, but Michigan has nearly 414,500 fewer jobs than it did when Trump was inaugurated.
Previewing the president's own trip, the Trump campaign looked to paint Biden as deferential on China, arguing that he cost American industrial workers their jobs. Trump's allies have long credited his hawkish China stance in 2016 as helping him win the industrial Midwest, which suffered job losses overseas that Trump blamed on Obama-era trade policies.
Trump aides have frequently repeated claims about Biden’s ties to Beijing, but that's proven problematic in light of Trump’s own kind words for China earlier this year in the early days of the pandemic. They have also ignored the Obama-Biden administration’s efforts to save the American automotive industry, based in Michigan, after 2008’s recession.
“Joe Biden is going to the state of Michigan to pretend to be a friend and ally to workers in the industrial heartland,” said Steve Cortes, Trump campaign senior adviser, “but he has proven over and over that he is a globalist and a corporatist who, as senator from Delaware, well represented corporate interests over American workers.”
Trump supporters say the president has fulfilled his promise of creating jobs and was temporarily sidetracked by the pandemic. But the jobs numbers show that hiring at factories across the Midwest — including in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin — began to stall and then decline in the summer of 2019. The Biden campaign sees an opening there to argue that, even before the pandemic, the president failed some of his most loyal blue-collar backers.
Trump won Michigan by the narrowest margin of any state in 2016 — fewer than 11,000 votes — and Democrats made huge gains there in the midterms, winning every major statewide office and a handful of congressional seats as well. Polls conducted earlier in the summer suggested a Biden advantage there. Polls conducted in Michigan throughout the 2016 campaign showed Hillary Clinton with a lead before Trump went on to win.
Biden was set to speak Wednesday with autoworkers. His plan to stimulate manufacturing would also create a “Made in America” office within the White House Office of Management and Budget to ensure government projects use resources made domestically.
Democrats see reasons for optimism in the party's gains during the 2018 midterms in all three states, which were powered in part by an exodus of suburban women from the GOP. And they believe that a stronger emphasis on minority turnout — with Harris, the first African-American woman on a major ticket, focused heavily on Black voters in key states — will help Biden make up some of the ground Clinton lost in 2016.
"The campaign’s taking it more seriously from the start than national Democrats did four years ago,” said Amy Chapman, who worked as Barack Obama’s Michigan state director in 2008. “They started doing advertising earlier than they did last cycle — last cycle they were only up at the very end — and the ads show what Biden would do, as well as showing a contrast with Trump.”
The Biden campaign is heavily outspending the Trump campaign on-air in all three states. Since Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee in early April, his campaign has spent about $59.8 million to the Trump campaign’s nearly $26.8 million across the states, according to the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG. The difference is starkest in Michigan, where the Biden campaign has spent $17.2 million to Trump’s $6.7 million.
For future spending, however, the two come about even, with Biden reserving $33.5 million on air and Trump reserving $32.7 million across all three states.
After overlapping in Michigan by barely 24 hours, Trump and Biden will both be in Pennsylvania on Friday at a Sept. 11 memorial in Shanksville, the site of the 2001 crash of United Flight 93.
Republicans also argue that a robust, in-person field operation in the Midwestern battlegrounds gives them an advantage over Democrats, who are still doing most of their organizing online out of concern for public safety during the pandemic.
“We’re door-knocking all over the place, our local candidates are door-knocking and the Trump campaign volunteers are door-knocking,” said Elizabeth Preate-Havey, GOP chairwoman in Montgomery County, northwest of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania's third-most populous county.
Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan; Jonathan Lemire in New York; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa; and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.