Iowa turned down Biden, but the president returned to sell the rural plan

WASHINGTON – Iowa has never been fertile ground for Joe Biden.

His 1988 presidential bid imploded in a plagiarism scandal sparked by comments he made at a debate there. He gave up his White House run in 2008 after finishing fifth in the Iowa caucus. And his 2020 campaign limped to fourth place in the state’s technologically flawed faction.

After rebounding to win the Democratic nomination, Biden returned to a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds four days before Election Day 2020, only to watch Donald Trump win the state by 8 percentage points.

Biden returns to Iowa for the first time as president on Tuesday, at a moment when he faces even more political dangers. He is burdened with falling approval ratings and inflation at a 40-year high, while his party faces the prospect of huge midterm election losses that could cost them control of Congress.


The president will promote his economic plans to help rural families struggling with higher costs at the gas pump and elsewhere, while highlighting the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill enacted last fall. It includes funds to improve internet access, modernize sewage systems, reduce the risk of flooding and improve roads and bridges, drinking water and electricity networks in sparsely populated areas.

Advocates of an emergency waiver that would allow year-round sales of 15% ethanol-blended gasoline are hoping Biden will use his trip to announce the move, which they say would help ease soaring gas prices.

Biden will visit a biofuel company in Menlo, a farming community west of Des Moines, the Iowa capital. It is located in Guthrie County, which backed Trump by 35 percentage points over Biden 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 senior adviser to Biden’s 2020 campaign in Iowa and led voting and early voting efforts on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in the year 2008

Harris said most presidents who come to Iowa typically visit the state’s largest cities. Hitting an area like Menlo “speaks 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 coming weeks mobilizing billions in funding for rural areas. Cabinet members and other senior officials will tour the country to help communities access funds available as part of the infrastructure package.

“The President is not taking this journey 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, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said part of Biden’s troubles is that key social issues that drive the national democratic agenda — including gay rights and fighting institutional racism — sway moderate voters in the heartland might deter.

“Iowa is a traditional, rural state, and even the Democrats are middle-class,” he said.

To attract voters more focused on paperback issues, government officials have long suggested that Biden travel more to foster an economy recovering from the setbacks of the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits has fallen to its lowest level since 1970.

But much of the upbeat jobs news nationally has been overshadowed by soaring gas, food and home prices, which pushed consumer inflation to 7.9% for the year ended February. That’s the sharpest rise since 1982. March inflation figures, to be released on Tuesday, are likely to bring more bad news for the Biden administration.


“Perhaps a trip back to Iowa is just what Joe Biden needs to understand what his reckless spending and big government policies are doing to our country,” Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, said in a statement.

After Iowa, Biden will visit Greensboro, North Carolina on Thursday.

Psaki blamed Russia’s war in Ukraine for helping to push up gas prices and said the government expects the CPI for March to be “extremely high” in large part because of this.

Congressmen from both parties have called on Biden to enact the ethanol ban.

“Home-grown Iowa biofuels offer a quick and clean solution to driving prices down at the pump, and boosting production would help us become energy independent again,” said Republican Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. He and eight Republican and seven Democratic senators from Midwestern states sent Biden a letter last month urging him to allow E15 sales year-round.


Most gasoline sold in the US is blended with 10% ethanol. Farmers in corn-rich Iowa have been pushing for widespread sale of a 15 percent ethanol blend. This product is banned in summer due to fears that it will contribute to smog at high temperatures.

The Environmental Protection Agency has lifted seasonal restrictions on E15s in the past, including after Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The Trump administration allowed E15s to be sold during the summer months two years later, but saw the rule overturned by a federal appeals court .

The price of ethanol peaked in December but has fallen recently. Wholesale ethanol traded about $1.20 a gallon cheaper than gasoline, although not all savings are passed on to drivers.


Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Iowa turned down Biden, but the president returned to sell the rural plan

Jaclyn Diaz

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