Biden revisits decaying Wisconsin bridge to announce $5B for infrastructure in election year pitch

WASHINGTON — The last time President Joe Biden visited Superior, Wisconsin, he warned of the danger posed by the deteriorating John A. Blatnik Memorial Bridge — pointing out the decades-old corrosion the viaduct connecting the two port cities in Wisconsin and Minnesota had weakened and promised to fix it.

Biden returns to that bridge at the tip of Lake Superior on Thursday to announce nearly $5 billion in federal funding that would upgrade the bridge, as well as dozens of similar infrastructure projects across the country, as the Democratic president ramps up an election year campaign to woo voters to convince him to reward him for his policy achievements during his term of office. Biden is making his pitch in a critical swing state that is part of the “blue wall” trio of states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where he defeated Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

More than 33,000 vehicles cross the Blatnik Bridge every day, but heavy trucks are not allowed due to its poor condition. That in turn has led to long detours. Without additional federal funds, the bridge should be closed by 2030, according to the White House. It will receive $1 billion in federal funding for upgrades and repairs.

The money comes from a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that Biden signed into law more than two years ago.

“It will save families time on their commute. It will help trucks get goods to shelves faster and will boost companies and small businesses in Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, who are looking for a little breathing room and the opportunity to build generational wealth.” White House deputy chief said. of staff said Natalie Quillian.

While the president’s visit Thursday is not officially a campaign event, his heightened focus on Wisconsin with the election less than 10 months away underscores Wisconsin’s place as one of a shrinking handful of true battleground states.

Four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point in Wisconsin, with Trump narrowly winning against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 before losing to Biden by a similar margin in 2020.

All signs point to Wisconsin remaining nearly evenly divided, even as Democrats have made gains in recent elections. A Marquette Law School poll released in November showed the 2024 presidential race would be a close contest with the election a year away.

Democratic leaders in Wisconsin have emphasized the importance of Biden visiting the state. Clinton’s 2016 defeat was partly attributed to the fact that she never campaigned in Wisconsin after winning the Democratic nomination.

“He needs to be here, it’s that simple,” Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan agreed, saying he has told Biden to visit Wisconsin to highlight his investments in roads, bridges and the expansion of broadband internet, and his efforts to reduce inflation and combat climate change.

“He wants to do that,” Pocan said. “He certainly understands the importance of Wisconsin.”

It’s not just Biden. Vice President Kamala Harris was in Wisconsin on Monday to promote the administration’s efforts to protect abortion rights, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will be there Friday to explain Biden’s economic policies.

When Biden visits Wisconsin on Thursday, it will mark his eighth trip to the state as president and his second to Superior, a city of 27,000 along the shores of Lake Superior just across the border from Minnesota.

He is expected to tout the more than $1 billion in federal funding, including from the infrastructure bill he signed into law to replace the Blatnik Bridge, which connects Superior and Duluth.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, Democrats in Wisconsin have been on a winning streak. They have won fourteen of the past seventeen statewide elections, including Biden in 2020, Evers in 2022 and Janet Protasiewicz in April. Her victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court battle wrested majority control of the court from conservatives for the first time in 15 years, and in December she sided with the liberal majority in overturning Republican-drafted legislative plans. The court is now considering new maps that would significantly reduce Republican legislative majorities.

Republicans have won victories, including re-electing U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson last year, gaining a seat in Congress and expanding majorities in the Senate and General Assembly. But those gains were overshadowed by losses in presidential, gubernatorial and Supreme Court elections.

Democrats have managed to feed into Milwaukee’s once reliably conservative suburbs, which have seen Republican Party support decline in the Trump era. Democrats also benefited from population growth in Dane County, home to the liberal capital of Madison and the University of Wisconsin.

The Democratic moves could have helped offset Republican gains made in rural areas during the Trump era.

Republicans chose Milwaukee for their national convention in July, while Democrats met just across the border in Chicago the following month.

Longtime Republican strategist Brandon Scholz of Wisconsin said even Republicans who are not staunch supporters of Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024 after victories in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, are driven to defeat Biden defeat in what looks like an increasingly likely 2020 rematch.

“Republicans are like sharks smelling blood in the water,” Scholz said. “They see Biden as weak. … Biden can come to Wisconsin a thousand times, and I don’t think it will change his position.”


Bauer reported from Madison, Wis.