Democrats show reluctance to campaign with Biden

Politics

President Joe Biden talks to a group of supporters as he arrives at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Washington. Biden is returning from a vacation at his Rehoboth Beach home. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(The Hill) — Some Democrats running in competitive reelection races in November are still reluctant to attach themselves to President Joe Biden, even as he and the White House have been buoyed by a few weeks of good news.

Biden has in recent weeks racked up a series of major legislative victories, and he has seen his poll numbers rebound slightly from all-time lows earlier in the summer. But that has yet to translate to enthusiasm among Democrats to embrace him on the campaign trail.

There have been some signs of that changing as primary season comes to a close, and a few experts believe Democrats are better off embracing Biden in the wake of his recent hot streak.

“Democrats can’t possibly think that Republicans won’t put them in ads with Biden even if he physically doesn’t appear with him. They’re going to be linked to Biden, so they might as well make the most of it,” said Michael Cornfield, a political scientist and associate professor at George Washington University.

“The benefits, I think, clearly outweigh the costs,” he added.

During a recent trip to Ohio, Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley both skipped Biden’s event. Neither has appeared alongside Biden on the campaign trail in recent weeks.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who did appear alongside Biden at an event earlier this year, recently sought to distance herself from the president in a campaign ad that states, “She doesn’t work for Joe Biden. She works for you.”

Biden has had limited travel in recent weeks, as he was sidelined by COVID-19 and more recently spent two weeks on vacation. But the president has not appeared alongside Senate candidates this summer in key races in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Arizona.

A Democratic strategist argued that incumbents and candidates will appear with Biden when it makes the most sense for their campaign strategy. 

“I think every candidate is going to look at it from his or her perspective in a very different manner and, particularly, if my demographic to win the race, for example, is white college-educated women and I’m playing on a Roe v. Wade-related issue, it may make sense to bring the president in as a rallying cry,” the strategist said.

The president has been something of a political drag in recent months, as rising costs of gas, housing, food and other goods helped sink his approval rating to a low average of 37 percent as recently as July 21, according to an average of polls from RealClearPolitics.

But momentum has started to shift, as Biden saw a flurry of congressional action in late July and early August, paired with declining gas prices and a successful counterterrorism mission that killed a top al Qaeda leader.

Biden’s poll numbers have started to rebound: A Yahoo News-YouGov poll released Wednesday found the president’s approval rating at its highest level since May, though it still sits at 40 percent.

Xochitl Hinojosa, former communications director at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), argued that Democrats should be using Biden on the campaign trail, considering the wins he has delivered.

“Because of the leadership of President Biden and Democrats in Congress, Democratic candidates have a long list of accomplishments to run on, whether it’s a strong economy, policies that lower costs, infrastructure investments and historic climate investments,” she said. “Democrats should be doing everything to tout and embrace that agenda, including utilizing President Biden and his Cabinet on the campaign trail.”

With the president’s brand starting to bounce back, a few Democrats have begun to signal they are willing to embrace Biden as campaign season heats up.

“He’s a great man. He’s a great president. I can’t wait for him to get down here. I need his help. I want his help. He’s the best I’ve ever met,” Rep. Charlie Crist told CNN on Wednesday after clinching the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore is set to join Biden on Thursday at a DNC event in Montgomery County, Maryland. 

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who is in one of the country’s most closely watched Senate races, gave a lukewarm endorsement of the president coming to visit him on the campaign trail.

“I will welcome anybody that comes to Arizona, travel around the state at any time as long as I’m here, if I’m not up in Washington in session, and talk about what Arizona needs,” Kelly said Sunday on CNN.

A Democratic operative described Biden’s lack of appearances with lawmakers as systematic and part of a strategy ahead of November.

“Joe Biden is old school. He knows the value of campaigning for you or against you, whatever helps you win. The goal is to win, not to massage egos,” the operative said.

Some administration officials have appeared with lawmakers to promote the Inflation Reduction Act at events around the country, which tend to draw very little attention compared to events with the president. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in a roundtable discussion with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — who is facing a tough reelection race — in Grand Junction, Colo., last week. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 rival of Biden’s, has also appeared in recent days with officials in Florida, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Biden is expected to ramp up his travel after Labor Day to tout the benefits of the Inflation Reduction Act, though the White House has yet to preview where he is going or who he might appear with.

But strategists expect the White House to carefully calibrate where Biden can be most useful in announcing new funding and how he can benefit the party with just two months until the midterms.

“I think Joe Biden at the end of the day is going to be all about, how do I keep a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate?” one Democratic strategist said. “If I can help, I’ll be there. If I can’t help, I won’t be there.

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