Biden aims for North Carolina as 2024 election comes into focus

By Trevor Hunnicutt

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden fixed his gaze on one of the prizes of the 2024 election three days after Donald Trump’s Iowa Republican primary triumph, taking his economic pitch to closely contested North Carolina on Thursday.

Biden sought to tie $82 million in new broadband internet development money from his signature $1.9 trillion pandemic relief law to helping lower utility bills for a large swath of North Carolinians while creating jobs in the state’s fiber-optic cable industry.

The pandemic relief bill combined with the $1 trillion infrastructure bill will help connect some 300,000 more homes and businesses to high-speed internet by 2027, the White House said. The measures will also help some 885,000 North Carolina households save up to $30 a month on their internet bills, according to the White House.

“It’s not enough to have internet access, but it has to be affordable,” Biden said.

After Trump’s 51% win in the Iowa caucus cemented his front-runner status for Republicans, Biden headed to North Carolina, the state his Democrats are most optimistic about converting in 2024. Trump narrowly won the state in 2020 by 74,483 votes and 1.3 percentage points.

The trip is Biden’s fourth this month to an anticipated battleground state in the 2024 presidential election.

It comes as Biden’s re-election campaign, launched nearly nine months ago, revs up into general-election mode with hires across a series of the states where voting preferences can swing to either party.

Since 1980, North Carolina has only backed one Democrat in a presidential election: Barack Obama in 2008. But Biden’s loss there in 2020 was narrower than Obama’s in 2012 and Hillary Clinton’s in 2016.

The incumbent president will need liberals like those concentrated in urban, highly educated Raleigh to turn out in high numbers to win a state whose vast rural regions favor Trump.

The Biden campaign has brought on David Berrios, who ran its 2020 effort in the state, along with two senior advisers, La’Tanta McCrimmon and Scott Falmlen.

“We expect North Carolina to be extremely competitive,” said Biden’s deputy principal campaign manager, Quentin Fulks. “President Biden and Vice President Harris have a strong record on issues that resonate with North Carolinians.”

The Republican National Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden’s two prior trips to North Carolina, in 2023, also focused on economics. The administration has struggled to get its message that the economy is strong to stick with voters concerned about high costs.

The campaign has as well tested messages on threats to freedom in the state, running a television advertisement there on the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

Vice President Kamala Harris, more directly focused on the Democratic Party’s base among younger voters and people of color, was in Charlotte last week to talk about gun violence and spent a prior trip last year talking about abortion rights.

The state also plays host to a competitive governor’s race in 2024. Roy Cooper, one of the few Democrats to lead a state that Donald Trump won in 2016 and 2020, cannot run again due to term limits.

“I’ve often said that Democrats don’t have a messaging problem, they have a showing up problem,” said North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton.

With Biden’s and Harris’ visit, he said, “they’re showing up and folks are taking notice.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)