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The home stretch: How the White House has spent the final hours to help Democrats hang onto power
The administration’s biggest names have zig-zagged the country to kindle enthusiasm for candidates up and down the ballot ahead of Election Day and against fierce headwinds.
President Biden last Friday afternoon during a campaign stop in San Diego walked up to a group of reporters to tell them that he expects Democrats to hold the Senate and compete to keep the House on Election Day, despite historical trends and the political class suggesting otherwise.
He would repeat his prognostications later that evening at a fundraiser in Chicago and throughout the weekend as the president and the three other White House principals — Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff — zig-zagged the country to kindle enthusiasm for Democrats up and down the ballot.
“This national involvement is especially helpful in larger media markets,” Matt McDermott, a Democratic pollster and strategist and vice president of Whitman Insight Strategie, a strategic communications consulting firm, told me on Sunday afternoon. “Democrats are getting massively outspent by GOP dark money groups. Headline events help capture significant earned media attention that can combat some of the paid disadvantage.”
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I watched the president on Sunday evening speak before over 1,000 fired-up students at Sarah Lawrence College, a private liberal arts college in Westchester County, New York, on behalf of the state’s Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul who’s running to become the first woman to be elected to the office after she replaced Andrew Cuomo last August.
Biden, ever the campaigner, seemed to be riding the momentum from the rally he led with former President Barack Obama in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor and Democratic nominee for US Senate, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who’s up running for governor.
McDermott said that the most important thing for Democrats in these closing days is for candidates to remember that they run best when they run their own race in a way that reflects their unique districts.
“There is not one and only one way for a Democrat to win in this environment. John Fetterman is running a fundamentally different race than [Ohio Democratic Senate nominee] Tim Ryan who is running a different race than [Sen.] Mark Kelly [of Arizona],” he said. “Any national ‘headliner’ involvement needs to reflect the same.”
This is why national Democrats like Obama and Biden this weekend were selectively used for events in targeted urban areas, for instance, aimed at driving up Democratic voters in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
“Their involvement is especially focused on base mobilization,” McDermott said.
The same is true for Vice President Harris, who, as I reported last week, was also in New York campaigning for Gov. Hochul at Barnard College, the private women's liberal arts college on the campus of Columbia University, to remind young women of their political power.
The next day Harris pre-recorded a moderated conversation on reproductive rights for BET at Howard University, an effort to shore up young Black voters who may be disenchanted that progress on issues like expanded voting rights and police reform stalled in the first two years of the administration. (President Biden on Sunday taped interviews with Rev. Al Sharpton and radio personality Willie Moore Jr. to discuss how his administration has delivered for the Black community during his time in office.) Harris then focused her attention on the AAPI community at an event in Chicago on Sunday before rallying for Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois on the Windy City’s South Side.
Dr. Biden, like her Democratic predecessor Michelle Obama, has proven to be a formidable surrogate, so the administration deployed her to Arizona this past weekend where she spoke to a local teacher’s organization and raised money for Sen. Kelly, who has campaigned as a lawmaker unafraid to stand against the president on issues like immigration and inflation. The first lady made her way to Houston on Sunday morning to visit a couple of churches with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, local elected officials and community leaders, encouraging voters to turn out and vote for Democrats up and down the ballot. (She also stopped by the city’s famous This Is it Soul Food restaurant with Hidalgo and Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to order fried chicken, oxtail, collard greens and sweet tea.)
The Second Gentleman, though a bit more under the radar than his wife and the first couple, spent Saturday in Washington state campaigning for Sen. Patty Murray, a liberal stalwart who’s found herself in a tight race that demonstrates how in a treacherous political environment no incumbent is totally safe. The day before Emhoff also hosted a roundtable in Iowa on reproductive health care and worker rights where he encouraged men to speak out more on the issue and emphasized that women’s economic empowerment is central to women’s rights and gender equality.
Obviously, this closing blitz should be considered in context: Republicans need just six of the 35 seats Dave Wasserman at The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter has categorized as “Toss Ups” to win the majority. If the Toss Ups split down the middle, Republicans would still gain 17 seats, though they’re expected to net up to 25.
With the majority, Republicans have their own vision for the future of this country that includes harsh immigration policies, cuts to government spending coupled with tax breaks for wealthy individuals and big corporations and investigations into the Biden administration’s handling of everything from the withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan to the COVID-19 response.
There’s also the Trump factor, as reports surfaced over the weekend that the former president is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election as early as next week. In recent days, he’s been in states like Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio to rally his supporters for GOP congressional candidates. But what’s been most fascinating to watch is Trump trying his most damn to not formally announce his campaign until after the midterms.
“MAGA Republicans across the country continue to trip over themselves to prove their extreme bonafides and kiss the ring of a failed former president who lost by [seven] million votes,” Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. “They have an extreme agenda of gutting Social Security and Medicare, banning abortion nationwide, making prescription drugs more expensive, extending Trump’s signature tax giveaway to the ultra-wealthy and spreading his Big Lie. And just like Trump did, they’ll pay the price at the ballot box.”
The polls have been wacky since 2016 and the verdict is still out on if the outrage from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade this summer will buttress Democrats in suburban districts. So White House officials are focused on campaigning through the finish line.
President Biden this afternoon is speaking at a couple of virtual DNC events before heading to Maryland to rally for gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore. (No word on how he’ll spend Election Day yet; all the White House will say is that the president will have a full schedule.)
The vice president is in California participating in political events for the state party. Emhoff is in the Golden State with a slate of events including separate appearances at get-out-the-vote gatherings for congressional candidate Christy Smith and Robert Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach.
Dr. Biden, who will join the president this evening at the Maryland DNC event, spent the day in Virginia stumping for Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton.
“These national voices help to crystallize the message contrast the stakes in this election. It’s a message of freedom” McDermott, the Democratic strategist, said. “Republicans aren’t just limiting your freedom at the ballot box. They are limiting your freedom to make personal health choices. Your freedom to choose who you love. Your freedom to work in an economy that’s not rigged against working-class Americans. Your freedom to retire with dignity.”