WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa has never been fertile ground for Joe Biden.
His 1988 presidential bid imploded in a plagiarism scandal sparked by comments he made during a debate there. He dropped out of his run for the White House in 2008 after a fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucus. And his 2020 campaign limped to a fourth-place finish in the state’s technologically glitchy caucus.
After bouncing back to win the Democratic nomination, Biden returned for a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds four days before Election Day 2020, only to see Donald Trump win the state by 8 points. percentage.
Biden returns to Iowa for the first time as president on Tuesday at a time when he faces even more political peril. He is grappling with falling approval ratings and inflation at its highest level in 40 years, while his party faces the prospect of big midterm election losses that could cost him control of Congress.
The president is set to promote his economic plans to help rural families struggling with higher costs at the gas pump and elsewhere, while highlighting the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law signed into law last fall. . It includes funds to improve internet access, as well as to upgrade sanitation systems, reduce flood threats, and improve roads and bridges, drinking water and electricity grids in sparsely populated areas.
Supporters of an emergency waiver that would allow year-round sales of gasoline blended with 15% ethanol hope Biden will use his trip to announce the move, which they say would help mitigate the rise gasoline prices.
Biden will visit a biofuel company in Menlo, a farming community west of Iowa’s capital Des Moines. It’s in Guthrie County, which has backed Trump over Biden by 35 percentage points in 2020.
“Some of this is showing up in communities of all sizes, regardless of the results of the last election,” said Jesse Harris, who was a senior adviser to Biden’s 2020 campaign in Iowa and led the vote and polling. anticipated. efforts for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Harris said most presidents who come to Iowa usually visit the biggest cities in the state. Hitting an area like Menlo “shows the importance the administration places on infrastructure in general, but also on infrastructure in rural and smaller communities.”
The Biden administration plans to spend the next few weeks pushing billions of dollars in funding for rural areas. Cabinet members and other senior officials will travel the country to help communities access funds available under the infrastructure program.
“The president is not making this trip through a political prism,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “He’s making this trip because Iowa is a rural state in the country that would benefit greatly from the president’s policies.”
Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University, said part of Biden’s problems are that the major social issues driving the national Democratic agenda — including gay rights and the fight against institutional racism – can discourage moderate voters in the heart of the country.
“Iowa is a traditional, rural state, and even the Democrats are middlemen,” he said.
To win over voters more focused on wallet issues, administration officials have long suggested that Biden travel more to promote an economy that rebounds from the setbacks of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of Americans receiving unemployment has fallen to the lowest levels since 1970, for example.
But much of the positive national jobs news was overshadowed by soaring gas, food and housing prices that pushed consumer inflation to 7.9% during the year ending in February. It’s the biggest rise since 1982. Inflation numbers for March, due out on Tuesday, are likely to bring more bad news for the Biden administration.
“Maybe a trip back to Iowa will be just what Joe Biden needs to figure out what his reckless spending and big government policies are doing to our country,” the Republican Party chairman said. Iowa, Jeff Kaufmann, in a statement.
After Iowa, Biden will travel Thursday to Greensboro, North Carolina.
PSAKI blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine for helping to push up gasoline prices, and said the administration expects the consumer price index for March to be “extremely high”, in large part because of this.
Members of Congress from both parties have urged Biden to issue the ethanol waiver.
“Local Iowa biofuels offer a quick, clean solution to lower prices at the pump and boost production would help us become energy independent again,” said Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. He and eight Republican senators and seven Democrats from Midwestern states sent Biden a letter last month urging him to allow E15 sales year-round.
Most gasoline sold in the United States is blended with 10% ethanol. Farmers in corn-rich Iowa have been pushing for the mass sale of a 15% ethanol blend. This product is banned in the summer due to fears it adds to smog at high temperatures.
The Environmental Protection Agency has lifted seasonal restrictions on E15 in the past, including after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Trump administration allowed the sale of E15 during the two summer months. years later, but saw the rule overturned by a federal appeals court.
The price of ethanol peaked in December, but has fallen more recently. Wholesale ethanol traded about $1.20 a gallon cheaper than gasoline, although not all of the savings were passed on to drivers.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.