President Biden hailed union workers as the architects of the middle class in a Labor Day speech that featured direct shots at former President Donald Trump and appealed to blue-collar workers and the people of Philadelphia — two voting blocs that will decide if the president gets a second term.
Flanked by “Union Strong” banners, Mr. Biden delivered a speech with all the hallmarks of a candidate entering the heat of a political campaign, telling a supportive crowd he would back their right to organize and obtain overtime pay. He said his jobs plan is working even as Americans cite concerns about economic headwinds like inflation.
“Where is it written that America will not lead the world in manufacturing? Unemployment has been below 4% for the longest stretch in 50 years,” Mr. Biden, his voice rising at times, told the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19. “We’ve recovered all the jobs lost in the pandemic.”
Mr. Biden likes to flaunt his support for organized labor and says his policies are designed to empower workers.
The president took a number of shots at Mr. Trump, though not by name, as he tried to make inroads with working-class voters who flocked to the outspoken Republican in 2016 and haven’t left his side.
“When the last guy was here, your pensions were at risk,” Mr. Biden said. “We helped save millions of pensions with your help.”
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He contrasted his bipartisan infrastructure plan with “Infrastructure Week” during the Trump administration, which became a punchline about futility.
“The great real estate builder, the last guy, he didn’t build a damn thing,” Mr. Biden said.
The president says his legislative agenda is driving a new era of job creation. His campaign released an ad Monday targeting swing-state Arizona on Monday by pointing to new semiconductor facilities in the Phoenix area that are funded by the CHIPS Act, another bipartisan law.
There is turbulence ahead, however. Mr. Biden faces a tighter-than-expected race next year and, in the near term, the United Auto Workers could cause a major ripple in the economy if they are unable to reach a deal with three major Detroit automakers before a Sept. 14 contract deadline.
“I’m not worried about a strike,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Philadelphia, in particular, is critical to Mr. Biden’s reelection chances. It is a Democratic stronghold in a major swing state, Pennsylvania, that opted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but Mr. Biden won its 20 electoral votes back for Democrats in 2020.
Mr. Biden delivered a speech about the “continued battle for the soul of the nation” in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall ahead of the mid-term elections and boasted about federal efforts this year to reconstruct a collapsed highway ramp ahead of schedule.
Danny Bauder, president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, pointed to the fast rebuild in praising the president.
“Joe Biden’s got receipts. He’s the best union president we’ve ever had,” Mr. Bauder said.
Mr. Biden, who represented nearby Delaware in the U.S. Senate for decades, returned to Philadelphia two days after a Wall Street Journal poll should him deadlocked with Mr. Trump in a hypothetical rematch, at 46% each.
Adding in third-party candidates, Mr. Trump led Mr. Biden, 40%-39%, with others in the single digits and 17% saying they were undecided.
Democrats are worried about Mr. Biden’s advanced age — 80 — and Mr. Trump’s ability to put up big polling numbers despite his legal troubles.
Mr. Trump faces more than 90 criminal counts in a quartet of indictments over his post-2020 election actions, storage of sensitive government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and alleged falsification of business documents related to hush payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. He pleaded not guilty at his various arraignments.
Despite facing trial in multiple courtrooms next year, Mr. Trump led his nearest challenger in the GOP field — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — by 46 points in the Wall Street Journal poll.
“Anyone who thinks that you can apply the old political rules to try to defeat this candidate based on he’s scary, he’s ugly, whatever you might want to call him, this is a movement. And we have to respect the fact that it’s a movement,” former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
She said Mr. Biden and Democrats must work extra hard to energize voters, particularly Latino and Black voters.
“I think the president’s campaign is going to have to really, you know, go deep and go hard to motivate those voters to come back within the Democratic Party coalition,” Ms. Brazile said. “Because, without them, it is a tight race, and it’s going to come down to four states.”
Mr. Biden exuded confidence from the Philadelphia stage, even joking about being the oldest president in U.S. history.
“The only thing that comes with age,” he said, “is a little bit of wisdom.”