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

President Biden is returning to that bridge at the tip of Lake Superior on January 25 to announce nearly $5 billion in federal funding that would upgrade it and dozens of similar infrastructure projects nationwide, as the Democratic president jump-starts an election year push to persuade voters to reward him for his policy achievements in office.

President 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 travel on the Blatnik Bridge every day, but heavy trucks are barred from it because of its decaying condition. That, in turn, has caused lengthy detours. Without additional federal funds, the bridge would have had to shut down by 2030, according to the White House. It is getting $1 billion in federal funding for upgrades and repairs.

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

“It will save families time on their commutes. It will allow trucks to get goods to shelves more quickly and will boost businesses and small businesses across Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin, that are looking for just a little breathing room and the opportunity to build generational wealth,” White House deputy chief of staff Natalie Quillian said.

Though the president’s visit on January 25 is not officially a campaign event, his sharpened focus on Wisconsin with the election less than 10 months away highlights its place as one of a shrinking handful of genuine battleground states.

Four of the past six presidential elections have been decided by less than a percentage point in Wisconsin, with Trump winning narrowly in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton before losing to President 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 to be a toss-up with the election a year away.

Democratic leaders in Wisconsin have stressed the importance of President Biden visiting the state. Clinton’s defeat in 2016 was blamed in part on the fact that she never campaigned in Wisconsin after winning the Democratic nomination.

“He needs to be here, simple as that,” Democratic Governor Tony Evers told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month.

Democratic U.S. Representative Mark Pocan agreed, saying he has told President Biden he must visit Wisconsin to highlight his investments in roads, bridges, and broadband internet expansion and his efforts to bring down inflation and fight climate change.

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

When President Biden visits Wisconsin on January 25, it will mark his eighth trip to the state as president and his second to Superior, a city of 27,000 residents 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 President Biden’s visit, Democrats in Wisconsin have been on a winning streak. They have won 14 of the past 17 statewide elections, including President Biden in 2020 and Governor Evers in 2022.

Additionally, the April 2023 victory of Janet Protasiewicz in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race took the majority control of the judicial body away from the stranglehold of conservatives for the first time in 15 years.

Protasiewicz sided with the new liberal majority in December by striking down the rigged Republican-drawn legislative maps. The court is now considering new maps that would greatly reduce the ability of Republicans to continue cheating their way to legislative majorities.

Besides the presidential race, Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin is up for reelection to a third term in November.

Democrats have been able to chip into the once-reliably conservative suburban counties surrounding Milwaukee that saw GOP support drop in the Trump era. Democrats also capitalized on population gains in Dane County, home to the liberal capital city of Madison and the University of Wisconsin.

The Democratic moves have been able to help offset gerrymandered gains that Republicans made in rural areas during the Trump era.

Understanding the importance of Wisconsin, Republicans chose Milwaukee for their national convention in July. Democrats picked Milwaukee for their 2020 national convention, which was conflated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they remain close by for 2024, gathering just across the border the following month in Chicago.

Seung Min Kim, Scott Bauer, and MI Staff

Associated Press


Patrick Semansky (AP), Alex Brandon (AP), and Susan Walsh (AP)