By David Shepardson and Tim Reid
(Reuters) -Former U.S. President Donald Trump plans to give a speech in Detroit on Sept. 27 to a crowd of union workers, skipping the second Republican presidential debate, an aide said on Monday, and instead inserting himself into a dispute between striking workers and America’s leading automakers.
The prime time speech is expected to be delivered to auto workers and other blue collar union members, the aide added. The speech comes as Trump has been harshly critical of President Joe Biden’s electric vehicle policies and urged autoworkers to back his candidacy.
The event will mark the second time Trump has skipped a Republican primary presidential debate, in a race where despite his myriad legal problems, Trump leads his nearest rival by nearly 50 percentage points, according to the most recent opinion polls.
Trump’s speech signals an effort by his team to look beyond his party’s White House nominating contest and onto a likely general election re-match with Biden next November.
The speech to union members will be part of an intense campaign by Trump to win back some of the working class voters who defected to Biden in his 2020 victory against Trump.
The United Auto Workers union began a strike last week against the three biggest U.S. auto manufacturers over pay and other benefits, a labor dispute that could pose significant political danger for Biden.
While Biden has touted his support of unions for decades, there is anger among some rank-and-file auto workers that he has not done enough to stand up to the manufacturers and their executives amid huge industry profits.
Trump is seeking to exploit the dispute, and will try to persuade auto workers and other union members that he will be on their side if he becomes president again.
Biden’s campaign on Monday harshly criticized Trump for his policies ahead of the speech.
“Instead of standing with workers, Trump cut taxes for the super-wealthy while auto companies shuttered their doors and shipped American jobs overseas,” Biden campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement. “No self-serving photo op can erase Trump’s four years of abandoning union workers and standing with his ultra-rich friends.”
Trump has said recently that Biden is “waging war” on the auto industry through electric vehicle mandates and has said the UAW should endorse him.
The current strike also has profound geographical resonance for next year’s general election because many of the affected workers are based in three key Midwestern battleground states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – where next year’s presidential contest could be decided.
Trump skipped the first Republican presidential debate in Wisconsin last month. The second debate is being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Institute in Simi Valley, California, about 45 miles (72 km) north of Los Angeles.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tim Reid; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Chris Reese and Jamie Freed)