Biden Heads Back to Wisconsin and Michigan as He Looks to Shore Up Democratic 'Blue Wall'

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is getting to be a familiar face around the Great Lakes -- and with a November rematch against Donald Trump looming, that's no accident.

Biden is off on a two-day swing through Wisconsin and Michigan starting Wednesday, looking to create momentum for his reelection campaign after a fiery State of the Union address last week in which he laced into Trump as a dire threat to the nation's core ideals of democracy and freedom. On Tuesday night, he clinched a second straight Democratic nomination, winning enough delegates after a decisive victory in Georgia. The president has visited Pennsylvania, Georgia and New Hampshire ahead of his latest midwestern trip.

Michigan and Wisconsin are part of the "blue wall," along with Pennsylvania, where Biden was born and has made more campaign trips than to any other state. Trump flipped all three to win the White House in 2016, but Biden took them back four years ago and likely needs to hold them if he's going to secure a second term.

Biden also plans to travel to North Carolina and other battleground states in the coming weeks. He has been overseeing openings of field offices as his campaign hires and trains organizers and begins assembling volunteers.

That's meant as a show of political organizing strength -- an area where the president has so far outpaced Trump, who has been occupied for months with a competitive primary and four ongoing criminal cases in which he faces 91 felony counts.

Biden's reelection campaign hopes on-the-ground organization can neutralize the president's low approval ratings and polling showing that most voters -- even a majority of Democrats -- don't want him to seek reelection.

"This particular president is a really impressive retail politician. He doesn't just do the rally and leave," said Jim Paine, the mayor of Superior, Wisconsin, a port city on the border with Minnesota. Biden has been there twice, including in January to promote a bridge built as part of the infrastructure law.

"He really puts time in with people, listens to individual stories, he talks about his own life one-on-one," Paine said.

Biden heads first to Milwaukee to announce awarding $3.3 billion for infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities. Funded through the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, the projects should help repair neighborhoods in Black, Hispanic and Chinese communities that were cut off from their surroundings years ago by major highway and roads. The president will highlight $36 million to reconnect parts of Milwaukee's 6th Street, as highway construction in the 1960s brought in fast-moving traffic that physically divided the area.

"This is standing out as a historic example of what it looks like to deliver for people in a way that will make everyday life better for everyone," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on a call with reporters.

The grants cover 132 total projects, including in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia as well as Birmingham, Alabama, Syracuse, New York and Toledo, Ohio. Buttigieg said that some of the projects are "relatively modest" and can be completed in "short order," while others are "massive and ambitious undertakings that will take many years."

Biden will also oversee the opening of his campaign headquarters in Milwaukee, where nearly 40% of residents are Black, rather than in Madison, the state capital that typically serves as the fulcrum for Democratic campaigns.

It's Biden's ninth visit to Wisconsin as president and his fifth to Milwaukee, where Republicans are holding their national convention this summer. Chris LaCivita, an adviser to Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson 's successful reelection campaign in 2022, is also a top Trump campaign aide -- another signal that the state is a top GOP priority.

On Thursday, the president heads to Saginaw, north of Detroit, which has high concentrations of Black and union-affiliated voters. It was once reliably Democratic, but swung to Trump in 2016 and only narrowly backed Biden four years ago.

Biden and top advisers, both from the campaign and the White House, have made frequent visits to Michigan recently amid criticism of his administration's handling of the war in Gaza in places like Dearborn, a Detroit suburb with the nation's highest concentration of Arab Americans.

His challenge was demonstrated vividly in Michigan's Democratic presidential primary last month, when activists promoted an "uncommitted" movement that garnered about 13% of the vote.

Thursday's visit won't take him to Dearborn, but will instead help Biden connect with key constituencies in other parts the state. The campaign promises to open more than 15 Michigan field offices, complementing the 44 it and the state Democratic Party have in Wisconsin.

Early polls have shown Biden faring better against Trump in Wisconsin than Michigan. Richard Czuba, a longtime Michigan pollster, said far more potentially decisive in November than supporters of the "uncommitted" movement during the Democratic primary are many "double-unfavorable" voters. He described those as state residents who plan to vote in November but don't like either Trump or Biden.

"If they are persuaded to vote for Joe Biden, Joe Biden will win the state of Michigan," Czuba said. "But, for Donald Trump, I think it's an easier assignment to make sure that those double-unfavorables get divided."

One way Biden can win over such voters might be to make the race about issues like abortion rights, rather than himself, Czuba said. He noted that the president's criticism of a suggestion by Trump that he'd allow Russia "to do whatever the hell they want" to some NATO allies might resonate with Michigan's large Polish-American population as well as immigrants from the Baltic nations.

Biden's campaign moved quickly to highlight those comments in a three-week, six-figure digital ad campaign that targeted roughly 900,000 Baltic Americans in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Still, that may not be enough for some voters in Michigan, where apathy about the Trump-Biden rematch is palpable. Said Saginaw resident Jeffrey Bulls: "I probably will be skipping that top spot on the ballot."