President Joe Biden has had a pretty solid summer break. With midterm primaries finally finished, Democrats are heading into the general election season with the wind at their backs following a string of wins, both legislatively and politically.
Despite the tailwind, Democrats are wary about having their party’s standard-bearer on the hustings this fall. “I don’t think there’s any Democrat in a competitive district who is clamoring for Biden to come,” an aide to a high-profile Democrat in a tough race told NBC News recently. “The White House wants to show that they’re back or whatever, but there’s just a disconnect.”
Honestly, that wariness makes a certain brutal sense when you consider the dynamics at play in the battle to control the House. But that makes less sense when you consider the struggle for the Senate. And there’s a threat that in trying to put some distance between themselves and the president, candidates may wind up obscuring some of the best arguments out there for sending them to Congress.
Democrats are wary about having their party’s standard-bearer on the hustings this fall.
Just a few weeks ago, Biden had hit the lowest approval rating of his presidency, a terrible place to be when you’re about to beg for votes around the country. But since that nadir, he’s bounced back from “mostly dead” to somewhere in the neighborhood of “yeah, he’s all right, I guess.” Not exactly the best place to be but still around where his most recent predecessors hovered just ahead of the midterms.
But while Republican candidates were tripping over one another to have then-President Donald Trump stump for them in 2018, Democrats’ coolness toward Biden echoes the way they treated then-President Barack Obama in 2014. Democrats had already lost control of the House in a 2010 “shellacking.” With the Senate on the line as well, candidates were wary about linking themselves with the president. Beyond just not wanting him to campaign for them, candidates ran ads highlighting the differences they had with him, with one candidate refusing to say if she’d voted for Obama at all.
As you may recall, that strategy didn’t work out for the Democrats. Their losing the Senate gave the GOP the power it used to block a Supreme Court nominee and dozens of other seats on the federal bench. Many Democrats in 2014 preferred Biden.
“I’ve been invited to go into, well, over 128 races so far,” Biden told CNN back then. “And so there are some places the president is considerably more popular than I am, but there’s some places where I can go in and the president can’t.” My, how the tables have turned, as Obama, not Biden, is prepared to headline a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser next week.
A key difference between now and then, though, is that unlike the Affordable Care Act, the biggest achievement Democrats got through Congress this year isn’t politically toxic. While I would have loved for the Inflation Reduction Act to pass much sooner (and be much larger), its late timing may work in Democrats’ favor. It gives them a boost among previously unimpressed voters, shows that they can achieve results, and it came too late for Republicans to spend the summer tearing it down as they did with Obamacare in 2010.
The White House needs to send Biden to where he can do the most good.
And yet we still see a reluctance to either embrace popular policies — like the student loan debt relief announced last month — or the president himself. In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat, has a shot at winning an open Senate race. A spokesperson told The Washington Post that the campaign has no intention of inviting Biden, given that Ryan “wants to be the face of this campaign, and that’s not changing anytime soon.” He has also criticized the student loan decision as one that “sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree.”
If that’s the case, then the White House needs to send Biden to where he can do the most good, like in his season opener rally in Maryland, to trumpet recent successes. And despite Ryan’s hesitancy, I believe that Biden should still be deployed to battleground states but not battleground districts. At these stops, the goal would be to highlight Democratic wins for a national audience and encourage higher turnout in the places where he’s speaking. Let him draw in already enthusiastic Democratic voters in places like Columbus, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, where the incumbent in the House has a smooth pass, with the goal of encouraging more Democrats to show up in the Senate race.
Whether or not Ryan chooses to join him onstage during such a visit is up to him — but given Biden’s improving numbers, entirely running away from the president seems like less and less of a winning move.