May 21, 2024
Despite earlier promises to be a major presence on the campaign trail, President Joe Biden has been notable for his absence at political rallies as the 2022 midterm elections hit the final stretch.

Despite earlier promises to be a major presence on the campaign trail, President Joe Biden has been notable for his absence at political rallies as the 2022 midterm elections hit the final stretch.

Biden has been focused on Hurricane Ian for the last week but wasn’t doing much in the way of campaigning beforehand. He hasn’t appeared with Georgia gubernatorial and Senate candidates Stacey Abrams or Raphael Warnock, and Florida Senate hopeful Val Demings was set to skip a Florida stop that Biden rescheduled due to the storm.

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The president has said throughout 2022 that he wants to be out and about more, feeling that he’s at his best interacting directly with voters around the country. But his campaign activity remains modest.

“Are we going to see him actually, as we approach the midterms, stumping for individual candidates?” a reporter asked White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Aug. 29. “Are we going to see more big rallies?”

Jean-Pierre’s response focused mainly on policies that Democrats are messaging around rather than who would be stumping for them.

“We had a string of successful legislative pieces just a couple of weeks ago,” she said. “In the coming weeks, the president will host a Cabinet meeting here, host an Inflation Reduction Act celebration even at the White House, and will travel across the country to highlight how the act will save money.”

Biden makes frequent policy-focused stops, as Jean-Pierre said, and a few of them have included candidates. Senate candidate Tim Ryan (D-OH) stopped by a groundbreaking ceremony in his home state intended to showcase the CHIPS and Science Act, for example. Some candidates have elected to split the difference, with fellow Senate candidate John Fetterman (D-PA) skipping a Biden speech about gun control, only to appear with him the next week, with qualifiers.

The president has also spoken at several Democratic National Committee events in the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas in recent weeks, though most of those did not include political candidates.

The Washington Post noticed the reluctance of Democratic candidates to stump with their standard-bearer, reporting in late August that Biden goes largely unmentioned on party campaign websites and Twitter accounts. Ryan’s campaign told the outlet that “we have not asked President Biden or VP Harris to campaign in Ohio and have no plans to do so.”

There is some evidence Democrats are actively working to take the focus off of Biden, whose approval ratings remain stuck in the low 40s. The latest Monmouth poll has the president’s approval at just 38%, his lowest score in any poll since August.

But this is an unusual midterm cycle, argues Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, with former President Donald Trump sucking up so much of the spotlight and offering a clear contrast to Biden.

“Whatever Democrats and the president are doing, it’s working,” he said. “A few months ago, Democrats were in a horrible position. In the last couple of months, the situation has improved measurably. So my general feeling is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Trump’s lasting presence allows voters to compare Biden to the alternative rather than the Almighty, Bannon added, noting that Biden remains more popular overall than Trump.

In some cases, such as Georgia with Senate candidate Herschel Walker, Democratic candidates may be able to sit back and let the other candidate self-destruct without risking a campaign stop alongside the unpopular incumbent.

Still, Democrats are leaving money and easy exposure on the table by not campaigning with Biden, argues Republican strategist Doug Heye.

“[Democrats] don’t want to be seen with him, which is a mistake,” Heye said. “He’s the president of the United States. He brings a lot of attention, and he can raise money. You’re going to be tied to him anyway, so take the positive with the negative.”

The Republican focus this midterm cycle, Heye consistently argues, should be on the economy and inflation, crime, and the southern border. Any time spent focused on other issues is wasted, he says.

“If you look at Biden’s poll numbers, Democrats try to talk it up, but the reality is his numbers are at or below where Obama’s were in 2010,” Heye said. “And that wasn’t a great year for Democrats.”

Republicans picked up 63 House seats and six Senate seats that cycle, though GOP gains are predicted to be more modest this time around.

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The Republican National Committee has similarly called Democrats hypocritical for distancing themselves from Biden while voting with him.

“Whether it is his low approval ratings, the rising costs he caused, or the recession he created, Democrats know Joe Biden is toxic,” RNC spokesman Nathan Brand previously told the Washington Examiner. “Unfortunate for them, voters know congressional Democrats voted in lockstep with Biden to send our nation in the wrong direction.”

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