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Biden visits key city in swing state as Trump rails against him at courthouse

President won North Carolina’s New Hanover County in 2020, but Trump did in 2016

President Joe Biden arrives at the Wilmington Convention Center in North Carolina to speak about clean water projects on Thursday.
President Joe Biden arrives at the Wilmington Convention Center in North Carolina to speak about clean water projects on Thursday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump returned to the campaign trail this week, but while taking very different detours — one to handle sensitive presidential tasks and the other to appear before a criminal jury.

Biden was in North Carolina on Thursday to address supporters in the coastal town of Wilmington, which has the same name as the Delaware city where he has permanent residence. But he was courting North Carolinians, not his fellow Delawarians, as he and his campaign aides continued insisting he could win the Tar Heel State in November.

His expected general election foe, Trump, was back in court Thursday after a Wednesday spent campaigning. Trump addressed reporters Thursday by calling the criminal hush money trial a “ridiculous show trial” and a “Biden trial.”

Both pitched their economic visions to voters — and, in Trump’s case, to courthouse reporters. Biden weaved parts of his stump speech into an official event about clean drinking water.

“Until the United States of America deals with this, how can we say we’re the leading nation in the world? For God’s sake, we’re better than this. … There is no safe level of lead” in drinking water, he said, announcing federal funding to address lead pipe removal and other clean water projects in North Carolina. “Folks, this is about safety, but it’s also about basic fairness. … Studies show communities of color have been hardest hit.”

He held the Wilmington event after handling presidential duties, first delivering remarks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House about campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza that have sometimes turned violent. From there, he jetted to Charlotte, N.C., to honor several law enforcement officers who were shot dead there earlier this week.

Biden, a self-described Zionist, used his morning remarks to condemn threats or hate speech against both Jewish and Arab American students, including Palestinian American students. “There should be no place on any campus, no place in America, for antisemitism, threats of violence against Jewish students,” he said.

“There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, antisemitism, Islamophobia, discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans. It’s simply wrong,” he said. “There’s no place for racism in America. It’s all wrong. It’s un-American. … There’s a right to protest,” he added, “but not the right to create chaos.”

The importance of Wilmington and the county in which it sits, New Hanover, is tough to overstate as Biden campaign officials contend the president could win the Tar Heel State in November. Trump narrowly won the state, but Biden was the winner in New Hanover, 50.2 percent to 48 percent. With Thursday’s visit, the Biden campaign isn’t taking the area for granted.

And for good reason.

Trump won New Hanover County in 2016 over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 49.8 percent to 46.2 percent.

“If you want the overall dynamic of a swing county, New Hanover is your county. … The key determinative is, as always, turnout,” Michael Bitzer, a political science professor at North Carolina’s Catawba College, said in an email.

Stark differences on economy

Much of Biden’s emerging campaign stump speech is about how his policies and legislative accomplishments have made voters’ lives better. That also was the case in the coastal city on Thursday.

Biden touted the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed both chambers of Congress during his term, saying it has so far delivered “$9 billion to North Carolina alone” and created what he dubbed “good jobs.” He warned that congressional Republicans’ opposition could cause “1 in 5” North Carolina families to lose internet access unless many of them agree to reload a federal broadband access program. And he contended that large companies like Walmart are unfairly keeping inflationary prices of consumer goods higher than necessary.

“Wages are rising. … Manufacturing is booming,” Biden said to applause. He reiterated his promise to make the “very wealthy and big corporations begin to pay their fair share” in taxes.

Trump “and his MAGA allies in Congress were happy to give the super rich a $2 trillion tax cut,” Biden said. “I believe in doing what has always worked best: investing in … all Americans.”

Both presumed nominees have been on the campaign trail this week: Trump fitting in two Wednesday rallies on his weekly off day from a criminal hush money trial in Manhattan and Biden around his presidential duties.

Biden attended a closed-door campaign event in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday and headlined a fundraiser Wednesday evening at Washington, D.C.’s swanky Mayflower Hotel. Trump held rallies with supporters Wednesday in Wisconsin and Michigan, with another set for Saturday in Wildwood, N.J.

‘It’s not a revenge tour’

Trump spent part of his time onstage in Wisconsin and Michigan talking about kitchen table issues, something some Republican lawmakers have been urging him to do for some time.

“It’s called a new tax. It’s called inflation tax. We call it the ‘Biden inflation tax.’ That’s what’s happened. Record kinds of inflation. And his price hikes are continuing to drain nearly $1,000 from the … typical family, each month loses $1,000. … That’s what he’s done to you,” he said in Saginaw, Mich.

“Bidenomics is flat-out economic warfare and welfare on the American middle class and low-income people — it’s a disaster,” the former president said after listing common consumer items like chicken, baby food, eggs, gasoline and mortgage rates.

“If Joe Biden wins this election, the middle class loses. But if Trump wins, the middle class wins,” he said in Saginaw. “People of low income will start their journey toward the American dream.”

Notably, Trump on Wednesday tried a new line, calling the GOP “the party of the middle income” while promising, if elected again, to “deliver a Trump middle-class tax cut the likes of which you’ve never seen before.”

Meanwhile, Trump declared that the U.S. economy is in a state of “stagflation.”

“That’s what we’re in right now, which spells the death of the American dream,” he said Wednesday in Michigan, a few hours after denying during his Wisconsin rally that his possible second term would be about payback on his foes.

“It’s not a revenge tour,” Trump said in Waukesha, Wis. “Revenge is going to be our great success. … We’re going to make this country so successful again. It’s going to be so successful. That will be our revenge.”

Bitzer noted that Biden has established a solid ground game in the Wilmington area but said the president and his campaign team have work to do.

“To me, the key for winning N.C. in 2024 is two-fold: which party keeps its [2020] electoral coalition cohesive, and what’s the turnout dynamic like,” he said. “Meaning: If 2024 replicates turnout, especially among party registration, from 2020, that is an advantage for Republicans.”

Biden’s task in the area over the next seven months will be to “break the fairly stable turnout trend and increase registered Democratic voters higher than the state average, or compensate with identifying Democratic-leaning Unaffiliated voters,” Bitzer added.

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