Earlier this week, the New York Times signaled open season on Joe Biden’s “fumbles.” Today, the Washington Post follows through with not just one but two stories on Democrats’ midterm panic — and who they’re not drafting to limit the damage.
First, the panic is real and it’s apparently spectacular. Democrats have begun rushing resources to protect what had been safe seats from a coming red wave, the Post reported last night, and they’re sending their stars — or what stars they think they have — in a last-ditch effort to salvage what is still possible to salvage:
Democrats across the country scrambled Thursday to bolster candidates in places President Biden carried safely in 2020, the latest sign of panic that they could face major losses in next week’s midterm elections.
Vice President Harris and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton held a joint rally in an effort to rescue New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who faces a close race in a state Republicans haven’t won in two decades. Biden traveled to New Mexico and Southern California to support vulnerable Democratic incumbents — bypassing Arizona and Nevada, where officials fear he could be a drag on senators in tight races. Biden and Harris plan to spend part of the weekend in Illinois, boosting House candidates in suburban districts that have been trending back toward Republicans since 2020.
As Republicans have focused on inflation and crime to go on offense in Democratic territory over the past month — competing in traditionally blue districts in California, Oregon, New York, Illinois and elsewhere — there’s a growing sense among Democrats that there’s little they can do at this point to combat the combined forces of history and economics.
Biden, you say? Well, we already knew Joe Biden would appear in Chicago today for a GOTV rally. For Democrats. In Chicago. As I wrote on Wednesday, if Democrats are worried about turnout in that bastion of party power, they must be seeing a red wave that will marginalize them even in the cities. Either that, I posited at the time, or Joe Biden’s so much of an albatross that they’re keeping him from doing even more damage.
The Post helpfully answers that question by signaling the latter, although it doesn’t negate the former either. When looking for a presidential visit, Democrats really only have one option, and it ain’t Biden. Barack Obama fires up crowds, while Biden mainly leaves them wondering what he’s saying:
It was a vivid illustration of the two men in two different circumstances during a crucial final stretch before the midterm elections, and it showcased the yawning gap in star power and charisma between the two partners. It put the sitting president at arm’s length from the most important places while the former president, even though he himself hasn’t been on a ballot in a decade, was dispatched to play a familiar role as the Democratic Party’s rallier-in-chief.
Even some of those who attend Biden’s rallies say he is not an energizing force for the party. “To be honest, not really,” said Marvin Wilson, a 51-year-old field organizer for the Florida Democrats who attended Biden’s rally.
Asked about Obama, Wilson added, “He’s more energetic. He’s a better communicator. He’s more energizing, and he draws your attention. The president doesn’t do that.”
In some ways, Biden and Obama are experiencing a bit of a role reversal from the days when Obama was a first-term president whose low approval ratings made him less desirable and Biden was a sought-after campaign commodity. On Saturday they will appear together in Philadelphia, the kind of joint appearance that some White House aides had been uneasy about for fear that Obama would overshadow Biden and invite unfavorable comparisons.
Come on, man. The unfavorable comparisons are being made with or without joint appearances. As for role reversals, it’s not entirely clear to me when Biden was ever more popular than Obama, even during the worse days of Obama’s polling. Obama has always been more personally liked, and a more effective speaker. Joe Biden has always “fumbled” on the stage, although it’s gotten worse during his time as president.
But also worth noting in all of this “star power” discussion is Obama’s track record on the campaign trail for anyone other than Barack Obama. Obama presided over two midterms himself, losing 63 House seats in the first and 13 seats in the second — but more importantly losing 8 Senate seats in that 2014 debacle. His combined midterm track record (-76) is far worse than Bill Clinton’s (-48) or George W. Bush’s (-24) over two terms. Obama still has the modern American record for a single midterm loss.
What about as a surrogate? He doesn’t do appreciably better there, either. Obama got pulled into duty as Hillary Clinton’s surrogate in 2016, most notably in attempting a last-minute rescue in Michigan, which failed. Hillary Clinton lost a winnable election even with Obama’s help. Obama may have helped pull Biden across the line in 2020, but that election was more of a case of Trump driving voter turnout in both parties while Biden also mainly stayed on the sidelines.
Obama may be better on the stump than Biden, but that’s damning with faint praise. Obama never had to front a party that has become so culturally disconnected with mainstream American voters, either — and given his Academia-driven appeal, is ill-equipped to move that needle in this midterm election.
The Democrats’ reliance on Obama is a desperation move. They have the White House but can’t use it because the White House is their main liability in these elections, and everyone knows it. Joe Biden is the proximate cause of their imminent shellacking, and the panic is the belated realization that there’s not much Democrats can do now to avoid accountability for his incompetent and disgraceful administration.