WASHINGTON (AP) — With his party’s control of Congress on the line, President Joe Biden has toured the country this fall in an attempt to turn the midterm elections into a choice between two visions of America. On Tuesday, voters will decide whether to stick with his vision or take the country in a different direction.
Biden faces tough challenges in an election that will set the tone for the rest of his first term. Presidents tend to see their party suffer major setbacks in their second year in office, and on top of that, Biden is saddled with a cloudy economic picture and the limits of his popularity.
In closing the campaign, Biden tried to build on a message that promotes his accomplishments, many of which will take years to really be felt, and warns of the consequences of a GOP takeover of Congress.
Biden tried to sound decidedly optimistic about the way Congress is going, saying Friday that he feels “really good” about keeping the majority in the House and Senate. Voters still broadly support the president’s agenda, advisers say, even if they are downbeat about the country’s overall direction because of inflation, gas prices and the poor tone of political discourse.
The key question is whether voters will give Democrats more time to deliver on the promised progress — pending infrastructure projects, drug prices promised to drop, climate change plans that are years away from full implementation. Or will they look elsewhere for more immediate solutions to the most pressing economic concerns?
It didn’t help Biden’s cause that Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia chose the weekend before the election to vehemently denounce Biden’s goal of eventually curbing coal power. Manchin’s rebuke was a last-minute embarrassment that could hurt critical Democratic campaigns in neighboring Pennsylvania.
Biden’s advisers argue that the current political environment is very different from 2010, when Democratic candidates were hampered by the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era health care law, and lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats.
“Whether you’re in Arizona or Nevada or Pennsylvania, everybody has Democratic elected officials that are communicating with their constituents, talking about the things that they’ve done for the American people that are built. President Biden’s vision and what he’s accomplished,” White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon said at a forum hosted by Axios last week. “And that’s a significant difference from other midseason seasons.”
In a sign of how Biden hopes his agenda can pass over time, the health care law has survived dozens of GOP-led repeal attempts and is now widely popular among voters.
Cedric Richmond, a former Louisiana congressman and senior Biden aide who is now a top adviser to the Democratic National Committee, said it was important for Biden to reinforce his accomplishments to voters in the closing days of the campaign.
“I think one of the most important things is for him to continue to remind people of what he’s doing to move this country in the right direction,” Richmond said. “We know there are challenges, but we are meeting them and not dividing the country.”
Even as Biden says he is trying to unite the country, he also warns of what will happen if Republicans win control of Capitol Hill.
“If we lose the House and the Senate, it’s going to be a terrible two years,” he said Friday at a fundraiser outside Chicago.
He argues that Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare, reverse Democrats’ efforts to lower prescription drug costs, and impose a national abortion ban. “The good news is that I will have veto power,” Biden said.
White House officials say that even if Biden hasn’t been in some of the most contentious states in person, he has helped Democrats succeed there by sending a message that resonates across the country, no matter where he campaigns.
Advisers say Biden bears no ill will toward Democratic candidates in Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Georgia who have tried to keep him at arm’s length. After 50 years in public life, they say, Biden recognizes that it is often beneficial for lawmakers to develop an identity distinct from their party leader.
Instead, Biden has run in a lower-profile but equally competitive election, with aides and candidates hailing the president’s ability to boost local news coverage.
For Biden, that means more than two dozen political events to promote Democratic candidates since August, as well as many ostensibly official events, such as the groundbreaking for a new technology manufacturing facility or a speech promoting insulin price reduction programs for seniors. , which contrasts with Republicans.
In fact, First Lady Jill Biden has proven to be even more in demand than Biden in some quarters. On Saturday, he campaigned with Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona and earlier in New Hampshire with Sen. Maggie Hassan, both in tight re-election races.
Over the summer, Democrats seized on the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in hopes of motivating women and the party’s core supporters. In recent weeks, he has emphasized his condemnation of the “mega MAGA” Republicans, who have been reduced to Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again!”
He has also expanded efforts to contrast his agenda with the GOP’s to include what he sees as Republican threats to democracy. That was the main thrust of a speech outside the Capitol on Wednesday, where he warned that some in the Republican Party were inciting political violence.
Republicans have downplayed people’s economic concerns in recent days.
“Biden’s agenda has wreaked havoc on families trying to get by,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Friday. “Low real wages, high taxes and out-of-control inflation have made it difficult for Americans to get ahead. In a few days, voters will send a clear message that they’ve had enough of the Democrats’ radical agenda.”
Some Democrats, already eager to blame ahead of the election, criticized Biden’s messaging, saying he should have focused more on reassuring Americans about rising prices.
“I hope there are people in the White House watching,” Faiz Shakir, an adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, told MSNBC hours before Biden’s speech on Wednesday. “I hope they rewrite it and focus on cost of living.”
Biden’s allies reject the argument, saying voters care about more than just one issue. They say the prospect of abortion- and election-denying candidates is helping to open the door for some GOP-leaning voters to go with the Democrats.
Richmond, a former Biden adviser, says the president is talking about the economy and what he’s doing to fight inflation. “If the candidate can’t express that, that’s on them.”