The White House is raising eyebrows with its midterm strategy, which has President Biden largely staying out of key battleground states in favor of safer spots.
Biden did make a trip to Philadelphia on Saturday to provide last-minute support to Democrat John Fetterman in his pivotal Senate battle with Republican Mehmet Oz.
But Philadelphia is a true-blue city, and the president is largely staying absent from the big Senate battlegrounds in Georgia, Ohio, Nevada and Arizona.
The president is expected to end the campaign season in Maryland for a rally with Democrat Wes Moore, who is a sure bet to win his race for governor.
One strategist dubbed the decision to keep Biden out of the hot spots as the “do no harm” strategy. It’s a reminder that Biden is energizing GOP voters, and that his faltering poll numbers are a drag on many Democratic candidates.
“He’s not going to do any harm to Wes Moore,” the strategist said. “But he would potentially hurt some of these other candidates who don’t need a reminder of the 80-year-old president with the bad economy beside them.”
“He wants to be part of the 2022 conversation with as little impact as possible that he can be blamed for,” the strategist said.
Of course, this isn’t the best sign for a president who has hopes of running for reelection himself in 2024.
“No one wants to talk about it, but he should be doing more of the Obama stops and he can’t,” a second strategist said, noting that former President Obama has made a number of trips to battlegrounds in recent weeks. “I don’t think it paints a good picture of what’s in store in 2024.”
The White House has been on defense over Biden’s schedule, even if the answer is fairly obvious to followers of politics.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre this week argued that Biden can be helpful to Democrats from anywhere because of his bully pulpit.
“It goes beyond just the state that he’s in, it goes beyond just the people he’s speaking in front of, and we think that matters,” she said on Thursday, adding that Biden’s speeches are televised and covered widely by the press.
It’s not that Biden has been completely absent.
Biden’s visit to Philadelphia on Saturday was one of many trips to the Keystone State recently.
Biden traveled to Florida last week to boost two Democrats who are trailing in the polls by double digits.
In a recent poll, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) was leading challenger Rep. Val Demings (D) by 11 points and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was leading challenger Charlie Crist (D) by 14 points.
Some look at the week before Election Day as the time to build on momentum, but not change voters’ minds.
“Overall, at this point, it’s all get out the vote. At this point, it’s motivating our early vote, you know, not necessarily persuading. So, I think he’s going everywhere that is required of him and having a very strong close,” said Ivan Zapien, a lobbyist and former Democratic National Committee (DNC) official.
First lady Jill Biden is traveling to Arizona on Saturday to campaign for Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who has seen his race with Republican Blake Masters tighten. Vice President Harris will join Biden in true-blue Chicago on Sunday, while second gentleman Doug Emhoff traveled to Iowa on Friday to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear (D).
Jean-Pierre, pressed Thursday on why Biden is only visiting blue states, pointed to stops where other officials are visiting and said, “this is an — if you will — all of government, kind of, process here.”
Obama is arguably Democrats’ most helpful surrogate and has been using his star power on the trail.
Brandon Neal, former DNC political director and political adviser to Obama and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, said that using surrogates like Obama to help Biden get out the vote is essential.
“You can’t go to everything all at once. I think it’s a matter of identifying who will be the most appropriate person, deploying the top surrogates,” he said. “I think having former President Obama go in his place is equally fine.”
Obama has garnered headlines in the last week for his fiery rhetoric. He has made stops alongside Mandela Barnes, the Democratic Senate hopeful, in Milwaukee, and in Atlanta, where he lambasted Republican Herschel Walker, who is running to replace Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock.
Walker is “someone who carries around a phony badge and says he is in law enforcement like a kid playing cops and robbers,” Obama said as part of a speech full of scathing attacks on the candidate.
But some strategists say that both Biden and Obama have taken on traditional roles in the midterm elections. When he was president, for example, Obama relied on surrogates including former President Clinton to headline rallies for candidates, particularly in 2010 and 2014.
“It’s normal in presidential campaigns or just campaigns, especially in midterms,” Neal said. “If you are in a place that’s considered conservative or considered not necessarily a blue state, then some states would rather have a former president versus an existing just by way of who’s in the White House.”
Some strategists argue that having Biden end the campaign season with the Maryland trip for Moore is a smart move because he is considered a rising star.
“I think that Wes Moore brings a certain energy and certain excitement back to Maryland, very similar to what President Obama gave when he ran for president in 2008,” Neal said. “I also think it’s a state that is close, it’s not far geographically, so it’s easy to go in and seal the deal.”