President Joe Biden is once again being viewed as a serious drag on his party’s midterm prospects, after a late summer bump had some thinking he would be less of an anchor around Democratic lawmakers seeking reelection.
With three weeks to go until Election Day, Democrats say they are worried that Biden’s shaky approval ratings will end up hurting their chances in the House and Senate races.
And as inflation soars and fear of a recession continues to mount, Democrats say the president will end up being “the fall guy,” as one source put it, even if some in the party don’t think the criticism is entirely fair.
“It’s all about the economy, and at the end of the day, everything is more expensive than it was a year ago, retirement accounts are plummeting, and gas prices are lower but they’re inching up again,” one Democrat strategist acknowledged. “And President Biden is in charge, so of course people are going to point to him, unfairly or not.”
A New York Times-Siena College poll released Monday showed that 49 percent of likely voters said they would select a Republican for Congress and 45 percent said they expected to vote for a Democrat. The poll indicates an improvement for Republicans since last month, when Democrats held a 1-point lead among likely voters.
The poll gave new worries to Democrats focused on the midterms and also has many reassessing Biden’s strength as a candidate for reelection in 2024.
The same survey showed former President Donald Trump beating Biden 45 to 44 percent in a hypothetical rematch in two years.
Biden’s national polling average has risen slightly in recent weeks, according to the political site FiveThirtyEight, but it is still hovering around 42 percent, with 53 percent of those surveyed disapproving.
Some Democratic strategists say voters have been able to separate Biden’s performance from candidates such as John Fetterman, the Democrat running against Republican Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D), who is being challenged by Republican Herschel Walker in Georgia.
“What’s been interesting this cycle is watching candidates like Fetterman and Warnock in strong positions while Biden’s numbers have dragged,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer.
“It seems like voters were already mentally divorcing Biden’s performance from that of Democratic Senate and House candidates, which means he’s not and hasn’t been a drag, but he’s also not helping bolster poll numbers for the Mandela Barnes of the world,” Setzer said, referring to the Democratic candidate for Senate in Wisconsin.
“That job still, apparently, falls to Barack Obama,” Setzer added, as the former president is expected to make a trip to Wisconsin to help boost the party’s candidate.
Obama is also expected to campaign in Detroit and Atlanta in the final weeks before the midterm elections.
Some Democrats don’t want Biden at their campaign events, believing his presence in public is more of a harm than a help.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D), who is running for Senate in Ohio, gave a blunt answer earlier this month when asked if he would be inviting Biden on the trail with him.
“No, I’m not, and I’m really not inviting anybody,” Ryan said in interview on Fox News.
Biden has participated in a mix of events this month to rally Democrats. While he did appear alongside candidates including Rep. Katie Porter (Calif.), Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass and Tina Kotek, the Oregon governor candidate, most of his help has been in fundraising for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.
The president will travel to Philadelphia on Thursday to participate in a reception for Fetterman. But it’s unclear if he will appear on camera with the candidate.
On Tuesday, the White House sought to keep the issue of abortion at the forefront of the election season when Biden delivered an address hosted by the Democratic National Committee. A day earlier, Biden held an event at the White House to draw attention to a new website his administration launched for student loan borrowers to have as much as $20,000 of their debt canceled.
Last week, Biden traveled to the West Coast for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reception in Los Angeles, as well as a grassroots volunteer event with Oregon Democrats and a reception for Kotek.
Democrats close to the White House acknowledge that many candidates have intentionally kept their distance from the president, relying instead on surrogates, including first lady Jill Biden, for help.
And political observers say Biden isn’t the only president who has found himself in such a position.
“It is normal that presidents are a drag for the party during the first midterms,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “The exception in modern times really revolves around when they are not, when some sort of issue like Sept. 11 in 2002 overwhelms the historical trend.”Democratic strategist Jim Manley agreed, adding “The story is as old as time. There are some places that a president can go to help folks running for election.
“However, sometimes it doesn’t make sense strategically,” he added.