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.
“High−speed internet isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s an absolute necessity,” he said in a speech 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 in this year’s presidential election. 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 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.
Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh, N.C., and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.
Josh Boak, The Associated Press