Biden kicks off a flurry of events to capitalize on State of the Union

WALLINGFORD, Pa. — President Biden took a post-State of the Union victory lap on Friday, bringing his fiery message to this battleground state where he sharpened his attacks against former president Donald Trump, this time by name.

After declining to mention Trump directly in his Thursday address to Congress, referring to him only as “my predecessor,” Biden dispensed with presidential deference and frequently named Trump as he unleashed his torrent of attacks on his Republican opponent.

“Our freedoms really are on the ballot this November,” Biden said. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are trying to take away our freedoms. That’s not an exaggeration. We will let not let him.”

Biden’s appearance in Pennsylvania — where he was greeted with chants of “four more years” — kicked off a tour of battleground states as he seeks to capitalize on the momentum of his State of the Union address, with upcoming stops in Georgia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Michigan. On Saturday, both Biden and Trump plan to hold campaign events in Georgia as they begin to go after each other with a new ferocity.

“If you’re tired, you probably watched my address last night,” Biden said to the crowd at a middle school in this Philadelphia suburb. “I got my usual warm reception from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

During Thursday’s address, Biden sparred in real time with Greene and other Republicans as they heckled him on immigration, tax cuts and foreign policy. On Friday, he reiterated those differences with Republicans, emphasizing his efforts to protect and expand reproductive rights, defend democracy at home and abroad and lower health care costs.

First lady Jill Biden introduced her husband, lauding his performance at the Capitol. “He isn’t just the right person for this job,” she added. “He is the only person for this job.”

Complementing his ramped-up travel schedule, Biden’s campaign announced Friday it was launching a $30 million ad campaign in swing states. The president faces enormous pressure to establish a consistent polling lead over Trump before the summer, given the anxiety of many of his supporters about his recent showings in head-to-head polls.

Democrats and Biden’s allies celebrated his feisty performance Thursday night, and aides said they hoped the speech would put to rest the simmering questions about his age and vigor.

“Last night was a perfect encapsulation of what this election is going to be about, and it is not going to be a contrast in age, it is going to be a contrast in the age of the candidate’s ideas,” Biden campaign communications director Michael Tyler said Friday. “Donald Trump — yes, while he is four years younger, his ideas are old as hell.” Biden is 81 and Trump is 77.

Voters at Biden’s event in Pennsylvania applauded the president’s performance at the State of the Union, even though many conceded they only caught clips of it.

“I was too nervous to watch his speech, so I read about it in the morning and was pleased to see he did a good job,” said Julie Vrooman, 71, of Swarthmore, Pa. “I was worried he would stumble, he would look old and elderly.”

Vrooman, a retiree who said she is active in Democratic politics, said she voted for Biden in 2020 and would do so again, despite some concerns about the president’s age. “I just worry about him having the stamina needed,” she said. “I trust his judgment.”

Democrats and Republicans continued to spar Friday over whose behavior on Thursday night violated the decorum of the State of the Union. After the speech, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Republican lawmakers had yelled out during the address because Biden came to the House chamber and delivered what was essentially a campaign speech.

“People got very emotional tonight because it was an overly partisan speech and it was filled, full of information that is just objectively not true,” Johnson told reporters. “And so you saw the visceral reaction, I think, from people in the chamber, and I suspect that a lot of people at home were feeling that same frustration.”

On Friday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) rejected that characterization, noting that Greene came to the speech wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, signaling her intent to harangue Biden as she did at last year’s State of the Union.

“That was an embarrassment last night, a complete embarrassment,” Jeffries said of the Republicans’ catcalls. “Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s basically running the House Republican Conference, shows up in campaign paraphernalia. And then these people want to lecture Joe Biden because he delivered a strong and forceful speech that made them uncomfortable because he exposed their lies and shamelessness.”

Biden’s uncharacteristically heavy travel schedule in coming days will be accompanied by several campaign announcements on office openings, volunteer opportunities and coalition groups meant to activate Biden supporters in targeted swing states. The $30 million ad campaign will run on television, radio, streaming services and other digital networks, including outlets focused on Black, Hispanic and Asian American audiences, officials said.

The ad buy follows an advertising campaign of more than $25 million that ran over the last five months of 2023, as the Biden campaign flexes its significant financial advantage over Trump’s effort.

The Biden campaign also plans to hire at least 350 staffers in battleground states over the next month, adding to the more than 100 already employed, and to open 100 physical offices in key states.

“We are not building to win a poll at the end of March,” said Rob Flaherty, a deputy campaign manager for Biden. “We are building to win in November.”

Still, the flurry of activity comes as the president faces pressure to show anxious Democrats that he can run an energetic, compelling campaign. Among his flashiest events will be a March 28 fundraiser with former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, moderated by comedian Stephen Colbert. The Biden campaign plans to deploy a small army of surrogates to help out, including first lady Jill Biden, who traveled to Wisconsin last weekend.

Vice President Harris is also stepping up her campaign travel, visiting every battleground state in coming weeks. She traveled to Phoenix on Friday for an official visit before heading to Las Vegas on Saturday for a campaign stop, with a particular focus on reaching Latino voters — a critical constituency for the president that has shown signs of drifting away from him.

Cabinet officials and senior White House officials will also fan out across the country, and a White House official said they would highlight the “clear contrast between competing visions for the country,” even as they appear in their official capacity as administration officials.

Among the trips: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will visit Arizona for the National Farmers Union Annual Conference, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will go to Philadelphia to highlight bridge repairs funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law, and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will travel throughout Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan to discuss Biden’s efforts to lower costs and create jobs.

The Biden campaign has telegraphed a desire to use the end of the Republican primary contest — former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley dropped out last Wednesday — to reset the race. Biden was trailing Trump in the February average of polls, with a significant share of even the president’s own supporters expressing concern over his age and ability to manage the job of president.

Attacking Trump as a threat to democracy will be a central part of Biden’s message in coming weeks, as it was on Thursday night. “This is the key juncture where we are in the general election, where there is a clear choice for the American people,” said Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon.

The campaign announced Friday that its top three hours of fundraising occurred Thursday night between 9 p.m. and midnight on the East Coast, around the time of Biden’s televised address. Each hour in that span raised more than the one before, Flaherty said.

The Biden campaign is focused on eight states that it believes will decide the election. They include three Great Lakes states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin); two Sun Belt states (Nevada, Arizona); two Southern states (Georgia, North Carolina); and New Hampshire. Future Forward, a super PAC supporting Biden, has also made ad reservations in the Omaha media market, where a single electoral college vote will be up for grabs.

Biden still faces potentially significant political hurdles. While he easily won the Michigan Democratic primary last week, more than 100,000 people in the state voted “uncommitted” largely to protest his handling of the Israel-Gaza war.

Scherer reported from Washington.

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