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Biden targets wealthy in Pennsylvania tour with a hometown visit

Published 04/16/2024, 05:04 AM
Updated 04/16/2024, 07:12 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the campaign headquarters for the state of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S., March 13, 2024.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Jarrett Renshaw and Steve Holland

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden kicked off a multi-city tour of the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Tuesday with a stop in his hometown of Scranton, where he renewed calls to increase taxes on wealthy Americans and large corporations.

Biden is seeking to boost sagging opinion poll numbers for his handling of the U.S. economy by contrasting his plan to impose higher taxes on Americans making more than $400,000 with his Republican rival Donald Trump's promise to preserve his 2017 slashing of the corporate tax rate.

“No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher," Biden told a room full of supporters.

Biden is also pushing for middle-class tax cuts, arguing "trickle-down economics" had failed and "the truth is Donald Trump embodies that failure."

With 19 electoral votes, one of the highest counts among all 50 U.S. states, and voters who swing between backing Democrats and Republicans, Pennsylvania is a top prize in the 2024 presidential election that features a rematch between Biden and Trump.

Biden, who spent part of his childhood in working-class Scranton before his family moved to Delaware, won Pennsylvania in 2020 by less than 1.5%, or roughly 80,000 votes. Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton there by fewer than 45,000 votes in 2016. Polls show another close race.

Later in the day, Biden visited his childhood home, the backdrop of many political stump speeches where he talks about the folksy life lessons he learned at the family kitchen table.

Biden will head to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Philadelphia on Thursday as part of an effort to draw contrasts with Trump on tax and economic policies. Trump was in Eastern Pennsylvania on Saturday for a campaign rally that drew thousands of supporters.

The string of events in a battleground state sets up a stark split screen as Biden hits the campaign trail while Trump spends most of the week in a New York City courtroom for his criminal trial over an alleged hush money scheme.

Biden is grappling with voter concerns about the U.S. economy despite job growth, healthy spending and better-than-expected GDP increases. Voters blame Biden for rising costs on an array of items from groceries to construction supplies, along with high interest rates.

“As Joe Biden visits the Keystone State today, Pennsylvanians are struggling because of Bidenomics. Pennsylvania families are suffering from historic inflation, unaffordable gas prices, and record high housing costs," said Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Whatley.

Jennifer Saunders, who owns a coffee shop along the city's central business strip that was recently renamed Biden Street, said she is concerned about the wealthy not paying their fair share in taxes, but it's not a main priority.

"I am more concerned about the rising costs of supplies and how much I can pass on to consumers," Saunders said.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll found that voters trust Trump more than Biden to better manage the economy and jobs by a 39% to 33% margin.

Biden is betting his economic populist message, which includes a new billionaire's tax and closing corporate loopholes, will animate voters in a blue-collar region of Pennsylvania that Democrats dominated before Trump emerged. Scranton sits in Lackawanna County, which is whiter, poorer and less educated, on average, than the rest of the state, the latest U.S. Census figures show.

Biden must stem the defections of white, non-college-educated voters in Pennsylvania and other Rust Belt battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin if he hopes to stay in the White House, campaign aides have said.

Former President Barack Obama won Lackawanna county by roughly 62% in 2008 and 2012, while Hillary Clinton eked out a victory with 49.8% of the vote. Biden won the county by 53%.

The state's Republican and Democratic primary contests take place on April 23.

Biden faces a loosely organized effort by critics who say he has not done enough to stop the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israel's air and ground campaign has led to the enclave's population facing widespread disease and famine.

Amber Viola, a 38-year-old Scranton resident who runs a popular local political podcast, said she was invited by the Biden campaign to attend the Scranton event but turned it down.

© Reuters. Campaign signs and buttons sit on a desk during a U.S. President Joe Biden campaign training event at the Carpenters and Joiners Local 445 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 16, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

"I don't feel comfortable posing for campaign photos when there are people dying," Viola said.

Voters mounted opposition efforts in Democratic primaries in other battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin and North Carolina to register their protest. Biden has faced protests at many public events in recent months.

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