WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s travel plan for his last big campaign swing before Tuesday’s midterm elections reveals his defensive stance in the campaign’s closing days: He’s spending the bulk of his time trying to hang on to seats that his party already holds.
Biden is kicking off a four-state, three-day campaign swing on Thursday to support Democrats in competitive races in solidly blue California, Illinois and New Mexico as well as battleground Pennsylvania, where Biden has deep roots.
His itinerary illustrates the limited political clout of a president who has been held at arm’s length by most Democrats in tough races this cycle. It also suggests that the president, whose approval rating remains underwater, has concluded that he can be most effective using the waning days before polls close to shore up support for Democratic candidates in areas that he easily won in 2020.
“Democrats are clearly on the defensive and that’s bearing out as the campaign comes to a close,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “Their chances for gains don’t look realistic, so now you look to what you can preserve. The president’s travel schedule is reflective of where they see this cycle going.”
The president’s party typically faces significant losses during midterm elections. Since 1934, only Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002 saw their parties gain seats in the midterms.
Some recent presidents saw big losses in their first midterm races. Republicans under Donald Trump lost 40 House seats but gained two Senate seats in 2018; Democrats under Barack Obama lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats in 2010; and Democrats under Bill Clinton lost 52 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1994.
The decision to deploy Biden to areas where he won handily in 2020 is being made in part because of concern about voter energy in races that Democrats view as must-win. Party officials are also concerned about some candidates who have seen their races tighten in the final days of the campaign, according to a Democratic official who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
In New Mexico, a state Biden won by nearly 11 percentage points in 2020, he’ll hold an Albuquerque rally for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is facing a stout challenge from former TV meteorologist and GOP nominee Mark Ronchetti.
Fundraising by Ronchetti’s campaign has surged amid visits from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Ronchetti also received a social media endorsement from Trump despite his acknowledgement that Biden won in 2020.
Later Thursday, Biden will join Rep. Mike Levin for a get-out-the vote event at a community college in Oceanside, California. Levin represents a district with a slight Democratic tilt that cuts through San Diego and Orange counties and that Biden carried by double digits in the 2020 presidential election. Republican nominee Brian Maryott has gone after Levin over inflation, gas prices and rising crime.
Biden is set to spend part of Friday and Saturday in the Chicago area, where two-term incumbent Rep. Sean Casten is facing a stiff challenge from Republican Keith Pekau as he tries to hang on to a suburban district that Biden won by a double-digit percentage in 2020. The White House has yet to announce Biden’s plans for his time in Chicago.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leadership, this week announced an $1.8 million ad buy to assist Pekau, the mayor of south suburban Orland Park. And Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, is due to campaign with Pekau in the district on Friday.
Casten’s campaign, in a fundraising email Wednesday, called the crush of super PAC money a “last-ditch effort to buy this seat” and implored his supporters to send him contributions for the campaign’s final stretch.
The president on Saturday will head to Pennsylvania to campaign with Obama for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania Democrats are trying to keep control of the governor’s office, which is being vacated by Democrat Tom Wolf as he finishes his second term. Fetterman is locked in a tight race with Republican Mehmet Oz, vying for the seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.