DUNMORE, Pa. (Reuters) – Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden promised on Thursday to spend $700 billion on American-made products and industrial research, which he said would give at least 5 million more people a paycheck during a job-killing pandemic.
“I’ll be laser-focused on working families: the middle-class families I came from here in Scranton, not the wealthy investor class,” Biden said in a speech outlining the plan near his childhood hometown in northeastern Pennsylvania. “They don’t need me, but working families do.”
The proposals come as Biden, leading President Donald Trump in national opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election, tries to chip away at an incumbent seen by a larger share of voters as a better steward of the economy.
Biden is adding an even bigger price tag to the trillions in economic recovery policies he has promised as the U.S. economy reels from on-and-off coronavirus shutdowns. A record 32.9 million people collected unemployment checks in the third week of June, Labor Department data showed on Thursday.
Republican Vice President Mike Pence also toured Pennsylvania on Thursday, telling a business roundtable in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern that “even in the midst of outbreaks that we’re seeing in Sunbelt states, we are opening up America again.”
The dueling visits underscored Pennsylvania’s status as a key election battleground. Trump carried the state in 2016 by a slim margin, the first Republican to do so since 1988, helping elevate him to the White House.
Biden’s announcement was the first prong of his broader economic plan titled “Build Back Better,” which includes proposals to build a clean-energy economy, support caregivers and advance racial equity.
“Biden’s willful attack on our jobs, our families, and the American way of life will reverse all the gains we’ve made together and plunge us into economic catastrophe,” Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.
Both Biden and Pence were visiting areas that have grown less hospitable to their parties in the Trump era.
Biden spent the day in Lackawanna County, a longtime Democratic stronghold that like many blue-collar parts of Pennsylvania has swung hard toward Trump.
Before leaving, the former vice president stopped by his childhood home in Scranton and greeted the current owner. “I couldn’t come to Scranton without coming back to the old home,” he said, declining to take questions from reporters.
Chester County, where Pence traveled, is one of several counties near Philadelphia that have seen Democratic gains since 2016, matching the trend in suburbs across the country.