By Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland
NEW ALBANY, Ohio (Reuters) -President Joe Biden made an election-year visit to an overwhelmingly Republican part of Ohio on Friday for the groundbreaking of a semiconductor plant that he promoted as evidence that his economic policies are working.
But his trip was punctuated by comments from a fellow Democrat, Ohio Representative Tim Ryan, who is now running for the U.S. Senate. On Thursday, Ryan publicly questioned whether the party needed new leadership after he was asked if the 79-year-old president should run for re-election in 2024.
Biden traveled to Licking County near Columbus to speak at the site of Intel Corp's new $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing facility and hailed it as a sign of things to come.
"The future of the chip industry is going to be made in America," he said. "The industrial Midwest is back."
The trip is part of a White House pre-midterms push to tout new funding for manufacturing and infrastructure Biden's Democratic Party pushed through Congress, while decrying opposition Republicans backed by former President Donald Trump as dangerous extremists.
Previous trips to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have landed the president in areas where Democrats already have strong support, but Licking County voted Republican 63% to 35% in the 2020 presidential election.
Democrats have lost Ohio in the past two presidential contests, but Republican Senator Rob Portman's retirement may give Democrats a chance to pick up a Senate seat.
Some recent forecasts show Democrats favored to maintain control of the Senate, after a series of wins in Congress. But not all candidates welcome Biden's campaigning support.
Ryan, who currently represents Ohio's 13th congressional district, is running against Republican J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the book "Hillbilly Elegy," who has Trump's backing.
Asked Thursday if Biden should seek a second term, Ryan told Youngstown, Ohio, network WFMJ, "My hunch is that we need new leadership across the board - Democrats, Republicans, I think it’s time for a generational move."
Ryan, who has broken with the president on some issues, has not asked Biden to campaign with him in the state, but was present at the Intel groundbreaking for the president's remarks.
Pressed later by reporters if Biden should run again, Ryan said that was up to the president. “The president said from the very beginning he was going to be a bridge to the next generation, which is basically what I was saying," he said.
Vance accused Ryan of hypocrisy. "It takes a real two-faced fraud for someone to tell Ohioans he doesn’t support Biden running for reelection, the literal day before he appears at an event with him," he said.
Trump’s political organization announced on Monday that Trump will appear at a rally for Vance in Youngstown, Ohio, on Sept. 17.
CHIPS ACT PROJECTS
Intel backed the Ohio project in anticipation of the passage of the Chips and Science Act, a funding law that Biden signed last month after some Republicans joined Democrats to support it, the White House says.
The Chips act is aimed at jumpstarting the domestic production of semiconductors in response to supply-chain disruptions that have slowed the production of automobiles.
A string of other companies have announced new semiconductor plants resulting from passage of the Chips act, which authorized about $52 billion in government subsidies for U.S. semiconductor production and research, and an investment tax credit for chip plants estimated to be worth $24 billion.
"Industry leaders are choosing us - the United States - because they see America's back and America's leading the way," Biden said.
Intel timed an announcement that it has distributed $17.7 million to Ohio colleges and universities to develop semiconductor-focused education and workforce programs, part of a $50 million education and research investment in the state, to Biden's visit.
The Intel facility will contain at least two fabricating plants that the White House said will be built by union labor, creating more than 7,000 construction jobs and 3,000 full-time jobs producing cutting edge chips.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Jane Lee and Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons, Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)