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In Minnesota, Biden to point to his administration's investments in rural America

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden heads to Minnesota today to point to his administration's investments in rural America. Just about a year away from Election Day 2024, the political undercurrents are swirling, in part because of a newly announced primary challenge from Minnesota congressman. NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith will be traveling with the president. She joins us now. So, Tamara, let's start with that primary challenger, Dean Phillips. What is he saying about why he's doing this?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: He's saying the stakes are so high in the 2024 election and enough Democratic voters have expressed reservations about President Biden's age that he shouldn't run unchallenged. So for months, Phillips had been saying he hoped someone else would do it. But none of the big names in the Democratic Party agreed with him. He's focusing his efforts in New Hampshire. Due to changes in the Democratic primary calendar, President Biden isn't even going to be on the ballot there, though some people are working to write Biden in. The winner won't get any delegates from New Hampshire, but it gives Phillips perhaps the best chance to make a splash.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Biden is the incumbent president. So how are his allies in the White House reacting to all this?

KEITH: I have to say they are pretty dismissive, both privately and publicly. Here's press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre yesterday when I asked her about it.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: We are very thrilled and thankful to the Congressman for voting with the president almost 100% of the time, the last two years, and I'll leave it there.

KEITH: They are focused on the general election and don't see Phillips as a real threat. And he's getting a lot of criticism from prominent Black and Latino Democrats, who say his New Hampshire play is an insult to Democrats' diverse base. And then there's Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat.

TIM WALZ: These are always challenging questions for me, mainly because he's a personal friend, and I don't understand what he's doing. I guess we have that in our life - friends and family who sometimes do crazy things - and we try and understand why. But as far as the president goes and as far as things happen out here, it is absolutely irrelevant. We're focusing on the things that president's getting done.

KEITH: Now, multiple people, including Walz, told me that Biden's Minnesota trip has been in the works for a very long time, well before Phillips threw his hat in the ring. And when I reached out to his campaign, they sent a statement saying Phillips welcomes Biden to Minnesota. But he will be hosting his first campaign event, a town hall in New Hampshire today.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so about the trip - Biden's trip to Minnesota - is he there to talk rural issues?

KEITH: Yeah, he's visiting a family farm to talk about all the ways that the administration is investing in rural America, things like sustainable farming, broadband internet. Rural areas are traditionally Republican strongholds, but Walz says that doesn't mean that the president should ignore these voters.

WALZ: I think it's both smart policy to get out there and talk about this and try and talk about what we need to do. And the politics of it are - is the fact is, is there's folks out there that are still listening that we can still make inroads in.

KEITH: And a Biden campaign official told me they don't expect to win in rural areas, but they're hoping to cut into Republican leads there because this is going to be a close election, and every vote counts. And they're making a real push to rural voters in key states like North Carolina and Georgia, too. Also worth noting - Minnesota isn't the bright blue state that it sometimes has the reputation for being. Biden only won it by a point and a half. And also, he is going to a fundraiser in the Twin Cities this evening.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith is traveling with President Biden. Tamara, thanks.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.