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Biden ventures to Trump country with unusual Alabama trip

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President Biden will travel to a deeply red state on Tuesday for an unusual domestic trip focused on his response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Biden’s trip on Tuesday to a Lockheed Martin facility in Alabama marks a shift from his typical travel within the U.S., which has largely been focused on swing states where Democrats are in tough reelection campaigns and has consisted of him touting his domestic accomplishments.

“Alabama is one of those states where I’m not even sure the Republican wave has crested yet,” said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia. “In Alabama, it’s still going full bore.”

The Lockheed Martin facility is located in Troy in Pike County, which former President Trump won by double digits in 2020. Still, the surrounding area is heavily Black and leans Democratic; Biden defeated Trump by 50 points and more than 60 points in the nearby Bullock and Macon Counties, respectively.

“He should get a friendly response in that area,” Bullock said.

It will be Biden’s first visit as president to Alabama, where his current approval rating is underwater by 32 percentage points, according to Morning Consult.

Alabama won’t be the first red state that Biden has visited while in office — he’s also stopped in Louisiana and Texas — but the visit stands out amid a flurry of other trips to help boost Democrats facing difficult reelections.

Biden has stepped up his domestic travel with the midterms quickly approaching, but has been challenged with balancing touring the U.S. with focusing on the war in Ukraine. When he went to Europe at the end of March to meet with European leaders and Ukrainian refugees, Biden’s domestic trips largely stopped for about a month.

More recently, Biden in April visited New Hampshire and North Carolina — two pivotal states for Democrats in November — as well as Iowa, which looms large in 2024. He is set to travel to another crucial state, Ohio, on Friday.

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) is in a tough reelection fight in New Hampshire and the president’s stop in the Granite State was focused on touting the infrastructure bill and showing off wins for Democrats. In Iowa and North Carolina, he discussed lowering costs for working families with his poll numbers struggling amid rising inflation and high gas prices at the pump.

Biden also went to Oregon and Washington last month, two typically Democratic states, to headline presidential events as well as a pair of Democratic National Committee fundraisers.

In contrast, there is virtually no hope of Democrats winning statewide office in Alabama come November.

Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is up for reelection, and there are several candidates vying for the seat that will be vacated by Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby (R) when he retires at the end of the year.

Biden has even emerged as a target for the state’s Republican candidates in their political advertisements. GOP Senate candidate Mike Durant attacked Biden’s vaccine mandate for large businesses released at the end of last year.

“Career politicians in Washington astound me with their stupidity and Biden’s vaccine mandate – it takes the cake,” Durant said in the ad.

Rep. Terri Sewell is the only Democratic member of Congress from Alabama and represents areas of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery, which is almost three hours from the Lockheed Martin facility in Troy.

Sewell said in a statement Monday that she plans to participate in the trip.

“Alabama plays a critical role in supporting the defense capabilities of the United States and our allies and I am so excited to showcase the essential work being done right here in our state,” Sewell said.

Ivey, meanwhile, is not planning on meeting with Biden when he visits Alabama, with a spokeswoman for the governor citing “prior commitments.” Neither are Sens. Shelby and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who will be in Washington because the Senate is in session. It’s unclear whether any members of Congress will join Biden for the events.

While Biden on his recent domestic trips has spotlighted investments from the bipartisan infrastructure law while working to revive parts of his sweeping domestic climate and social spending proposal, Tuesday’s trip will have a decidedly different focus: U.S. military assistance to Ukraine.

There is bipartisan support for the steps that the Biden administration has taken to arm the Ukrainians and impose sanctions on Russia in response to the atrocities in Ukraine.

“I think it’s a positive thing for Americans and for Alabamians in particular,” said Cissy Jackson, counsel at Arent Fox and former national security adviser to then-Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.). “The Ukraine situation is a fight for democracy and it’s a fight against authoritarians, and that is not a red fight or a blue fight, it’s a red, white and blue fight. And that is what the folks down in Troy are doing. They’re helping save lives in Ukraine right this minute.”

The Lockheed Martin facility manufactures weapons systems like the Javelin anti-tank missiles, which the U.S. has provided Ukraine.

Biden is expected to use the trip in part to push Congress to quickly approve the $33 billion he has requested in additional military, economic and humanitarian assistance to address Russia’s war in Ukraine.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said a goal of Biden’s trip is “to make the case in these remarks about how vital it is to move this legislation forward.”

Biden on Tuesday will also argue it is important for Congress to quickly pass the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which aims to boost domestic manufacturing of semiconductors. Each Javelin missile requires more than 200 semiconductors to make, according to Psaki.

Brent Buchanan, Republican pollster from Alabama, called Biden a “persona non grata in Alabama” but said that support for Ukraine is a unifying factor for Americans.

“I say this as primarily a pollster, there’s not a lot of good things that Biden can tag himself to right now but support for Ukraine and the proxy war there is probably the highest thing he can tag himself to,” he said. “And so my guess is it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s in rural Alabama, it has to do with saying, look, ‘we can create jobs doing this and we’re fighting an evil empire.’”

Psaki said that the U.S. has sent over 5,500 Javelin anti-tank missile systems to Ukraine and Biden on Tuesday intends to thank employees and underscore their impact on the fight in Ukraine through their work in the facility, which produced nearly 13,000 total missiles in 2021.

“I don’t see this as political, I see this as more of a unifying visit, this is what America is doing in the world and this is what these people are contributing to that,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they voted for him, they’re doing their jobs for all of us and he’s not too busy to come and recognize them for that.”

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