Biden visits North Carolina, a state he hopes to win in November, to promote internet access

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BY JOSH BOAK

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled $82 million for North Carolina to help connect 16,000 new households and businesses to high-speed internet, delivering an election-year pitch about policies he says are “just getting started” at improving the United States.

Biden, the Democratic incumbent who is campaigning to win a second term, coupled his economic message with a few jabs at his predecessor, Donald Trump, currently the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and his most likely future challenger.

Biden brought up Trump’s recent comment that he hoped the economy would crash soon because he doesn’t want to preside over job losses if he were to be reelected in November. Biden told his audience that Trump already was like Herbert Hoover, who held office during the 1929 stock market crash.

“He’s the only president to be president for four years and lose jobs,” Biden said of Trump.

Biden said the work his administration is doing in North Carolina, on high-speed internet, infrastructure and more, is happening in communities across the country, regardless of the politics.

“What we’re doing here in North Carolina is one piece of a much bigger story,” he said. Biden said he was keeping his promise “to be a president for all America, whether you voted for me or not.”

Biden talked about all the people who need high-speed internet because they work from home, businesses who need it to reach customers and students who need to do their school work.

“High-speed internet isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s an absolute necessity,” he said in Raleigh, the state capital. “The investment in high-speed internet means something else as well: good-paying jobs.”

Biden’s reelection campaign has made winning North Carolina and its 16 electoral votes a top priority. The Democrat narrowly lost the state in 2020 by 1.34 percentage points to Trump. They are expected to face each other again in November.

Fast-growing North Carolina is considered a presidential battleground, but only twice in the last 40-plus years has a Democrat won the state’s electoral votes: Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Barack Obama in 2008.

Trump won the state in both 2016 and 2020, with the latter victory in part a result of massive turnout for Republicans in rural and non-urban counties overcoming increasingly Democratic strongholds in and around Raleigh and Charlotte.

Republicans hold narrow veto-proof control of the state legislature and a majority on the state Supreme Court. But voters still appear comfortable with a Democratic state chief executive who attempts to counteract GOP policies, which recently have included more abortion restrictions and expanded private school vouchers. Democrats have held the governorship for all but four years since 1993.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is term-limited from running this year, spoke before Biden on Thursday, boosting Biden and criticizing Trump.

“I want a president who wakes up every morning thinking about the American people instead of a president who wakes up every morning thinking about himself,” Cooper said.

Polling shows that the economy has been a weakness for Biden, a reflection of inflation hitting a four-decade high in June 2022. Easing inflation rates since then have yet to pull Biden’s approval ratings back to their levels at the start of his presidency. The president has tried to empathize with voters grappling with higher inflation, but he has stressed that his policies are fostering the creation of factory and construction jobs with middle-class wages.

“When jobs grow, everything grows,” Biden said as he ticked through federal spending on projects made possible by his pandemic aid package and an infrastructure law.

The president later picked up a burger, fries and shake from Cook Out and held what his campaign described as a “kitchen table conversation” at the home of a family that benefited from the administration’s student loan forgiveness programs.

The administration is committing a total of $3 billion to build and fund internet connections in North Carolina. The administration estimates that an additional 300,000 state residents will be able to access the internet by the end of 2026.

One way the administration says it has lowered costs for families is by providing discounted internet service to 880,000 households in North Carolina. But the administration is calling on Congress to renew the Affordable Connectivity Program, a separate source of funding that is set to run out of money in April. The program has helped 22 million people save $30 to $75 a month on their internet bills, the administration says.

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