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‘We demand a cease-fire’: Takeaways from Biden’s Rust Belt campaign swing

President touts infrastructure project in Milwaukee, meets with organizers in Michigan

President Joe Biden speaks at the Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 13, 2024. Biden announced a new infrastructure project that includes Milwaukee.
President Joe Biden speaks at the Pieper-Hillside Boys & Girls Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 13, 2024. Biden announced a new infrastructure project that includes Milwaukee. (Alex Wroblewski for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — President Joe Biden spent a two-day visit in Wisconsin and Michigan trying to convince voters he is their best bet for a better life and raking in more campaign cash — but he was met with more protests in both swing states, and another bleak poll.

During an official White House event in Milwaukee on Wednesday, the president came delivering grants for a major infrastructure project. His message was that his administration was attempting to do right by minority communities adversely affected in the 1960s when interstate highways were built through their neighborhoods.

That message could be politically beneficial. Biden’s campaign team is betting big that the kinds of Black and Latino voters who the grants are designed to help will turn out for him in November. Those votes could be key in Michigan, for example, a state that Inside Elections this week shifted from tilting toward Biden to a rating of Toss-up.

A major goal of the two-day trek was to raise more funds, after the Biden campaign reportedly raised $10 million in the 24 hours after his State of the Union address on March 7. His reelection campaign had $56 million in its accounts at the end of January, with the Democratic National Committee sitting on another $24 million; presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee had $30 million and $9 million, respectively, NBC reported.

For his part, Trump will be the marquee speaker Saturday at a rally hosted by the conservative Buckeye Values PAC, an event aimed at boosting the Senate candidacy of Bernie Moreno. He is a Cleveland-area businessman running for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. Moreno’s opponents in Tuesday’s primary are state Sen. Matt Dolan and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

The former president took a shot at Biden on social media after former special counsel Robert Hur testified on Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee about his decision to not charge the president over his handling of classified documents after he left the vice presidency.

“The Hur Report was revealed today! A disaster for Biden, a two tiered standard of justice,” Trump wrote late Tuesday on Truth Social, eager to keep the matter as a campaign issue even as a White House spokesman summed up Hur’s testimony in three words: “Case is closed.”

Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac University poll of Michigan registered voters released Thursday gave Trump a 48 percent to 45 percent lead over Biden in a one-on-one race, with 8 percent saying they were either undecided (3 percent), would vote for someone else (1 percent), would not vote (2 percent) or refused to answer (2 percent). Independents, one of the most important voting blocs in both states, leaned slightly right in Michigan: 46 percent backed Trump and 42 percent said they would vote for Biden.

Here are three takeaways from Biden’s trek to the Badger and Great Lakes states.

RNC pre-programming

The Republican National Convention that officially nominates Trump for the third consecutive cycle will be in July in Milwaukee, where Biden this week was touting a $36 million grant for the city’s 6th Street infrastructure project as proof Democrats actually are doing things to help voters.

“The same thing happened here, and many cities across the country are also cities all across America. … They disconnected entire communities from opportunities, sometimes in an effort to reinforce segregation. That’s what happened here in Milwaukee,” Biden said Wednesday of interstate construction, moments later adding this key election-year line: “We’re going to ensure that good-paying construction jobs created in this project go to members of the community.”

But Trump surrogates blasted the Michigan arm of the trip, which was for a closed-door Democratic organizing meeting.

“Over 101,000 Michiganders just voted for ‘uncommitted’ over Joe Biden, so it’s no wonder that he is parachuting into the Great Lake State in a desperate attempt to save face. Michiganders are feeling the impact of his failures on trade, the economy, and more, and they won’t fall for his lies,” RNC Chair Michael Whatley said in a Thursday statement.

‘Genocide Joe’

Biden was greeted by pro-Palestinian protesters in both states. On Wednesday, chants along his motorcade’s route in Milwaukee included: “Hey hey, ho ho, Genocide Joe has got to go” and “Biden, Biden, you’re a liar — we demand a cease-fire,” according to a pool reporter traveling with him.

Meanwhile, a key White House national security official on Thursday appeared to give Israeli officials some space to maneuver in the Rafah area of Gaza, to which it had instructed Palestinian civilians to flee.

Israeli officials have not described to Biden administration officials how they would move Palestinian civilians into what an Israeli Defense Force spokesman reportedly called “humanitarian islands” ahead of possible military operations in Rafah, said John Kirby, the White House national security communications adviser. “We have not seen such plans,” he told reporters. After Biden last weekend said an Israeli operation there would be a “red line” for him, Kirby said U.S. officials oppose military action in Rafah unless presented with a “credible, legitimate, executable plan to protect” civilians.

Mum in Michigan

Unlike in Milwaukee, Biden did not hold a public event in Michigan.

Instead, he headlined a closed-door Democratic organizing meeting in Saginaw before returning to Washington.

There were no pro-Palestinian protesters waiting for him in Michigan as he headed to a private residence just a few weeks after 101,436 voters cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the state’s presidential primary. Biden still netted 81.1 percent of the total vote, but the “uncommitted” drive was led by Arab American groups outraged that, according to them, he has not tried hard enough to persuade Israeli leaders to end their deadly military offensive inside Gaza.

Biden has been interrupted multiple times in recent months during public events by pro-Palestinian protesters, and some Democrats are worried his handling of the conflict could hand Michigan to Trump with what could be a razor-thin winning margin.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sparred with reporters Wednesday aboard Air Force One as Biden headed to Wisconsin. She contended the president had met personally with Arab American leaders, but reporters correctly pushed back, noting he had rarely done so since the Israel-Hamas conflict started.

Biden told donors at a brewery in Milwaukee that his campaign needs its supporters, in order to win the state, to go out “knocking on doors and making contact with people.”

Fair enough. But if the president cannot speak in neighboring Michigan during the remaining eight months of the campaign because of a fear of being shouted down by pro-Palestinian protesters, that could open a door for Trump, especially if those voters stay home in November or just leave the presidential line on their ballots blank.

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