President Joe Biden has had a pretty solid summer break. With the midterm elections finally wrapped up, the Democrats head into the general election season with a tailwind following a string of victories at both the legislative and political levels.
Despite the tailwind, Democrats are cautious about pissing off their party’s flag-bearer this fall. “I don’t think there’s a Democrat in an embattled district that calls for Biden,” an adviser to a high-profile Democrat in a tough race recently told NBC News. “The White House wants to show they’re back or whatever, but there’s just a hiatus.”
Honestly, this caution makes a certain brutal sense given the dynamics at play in the battle for house control. But that makes less sense when you consider the fight for the Senate. And there is a danger that in trying to put some distance between themselves and the president, candidates will end up obscuring some of the best arguments for sending them to Congress.
Democrats are cautious about misleading their party’s flag-bearer this fall.
Just a few weeks ago, Biden had the lowest approval rating of his presidency, a terrible place to be when you’re begging for votes across the country. But since that nadir, he’s bounced back from “mostly dead” to somewhere near “yeah, he’s fine I think.” Not exactly the best place to be, but still roughly where its recent predecessors hovered just before midterms.
But while Republican candidates stumbled upon each other to win over then-President Donald Trump in 2018, Democrats’ coolness towards Biden mirrors the way they treated then-President Barack Obama in 2014. Democrats had already lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 “Peel.” With the Senate also having a turn, candidates were wary of associating with the President. Aside from not wanting him to run for them, the candidates ran ads highlighting the differences they had with him, with one candidate refusing to say if she even voted for Obama.
As you may recall, this strategy didn’t work for the Democrats. Her loss of the Senate gave the GOP the power to block a Supreme Court nominee and dozens of other seats in the federal bench. Many Democrats favored Biden in 2014.
“I’ve been invited to, well, over 128 races so far,” Biden told CNN at the time. “And so there are some places where the President is significantly more popular than I am, but there are some places I can go in and the President can’t.” Gosh, the tables have turned since Obama, not Biden , is poised to lead a Democratic Senate Campaign Committee fundraiser next week.
A key difference between now and then, however, is that unlike the Affordable Care Act, the biggest pass Democrats pushed through Congress this year isn’t politically toxic. While I would have loved to see the anti-inflation bill passed much sooner (and much bigger), its late timing could work in Democrats’ favor. It gives them a boost from previously unimpressed voters, shows they can get results, and it was too late for Republicans to spend the summer tearing it down like they did with Obamacare in 2010.
The White House needs to put Biden where he can make the most difference.
And yet we still see a reluctance to embrace either popular measures — 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 as Ryan “wants to be the face of this campaign and that’s not going to change 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, the White House needs to send Biden where he can do the most good, like his season-opener rally in Maryland, to trumpet recent successes. And despite Ryan’s hesitation, I believe Biden should still be deployed to battleground states, but not battleground districts. At these stops, the goal would be to highlight democratic victories for a national audience and to encourage higher voter turnout in the places where he speaks. Let him attract already enthusiastic Democratic voters in places like Columbus, Ohio and Pittsburgh, where the incumbent has a smooth pass in the House of Representatives, with a goal of encouraging more Democrats to show up in the Senate race.
Whether or not Ryan joins him on stage during such a visit is up to him — but with Biden’s improving numbers, running away from the president entirely seems less and less of a winning move.