Since Gallup began measuring presidential approval ratings in 1945, the only president with an approval rating lower than Biden at this point was Trump. Yet among Democrats nationwide, Biden’s approval rating still remains high – 92%. In Virginia, where Biden’s overall approval rating fell to 43% in a Monmouth University poll last week, the president’s rating among Democrats is 84%.
“It’s just not the kind of toxic waste dump that Trump has become,” said Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way. “I guess even though Biden isn’t over 50 [percent public approval] next year you’re going to see him campaigning with a ton of Congressional Democrats.
Four years ago, the off-year campaigns leading up to the midterm elections not only foreshadowed the collapse of the GOP in 2018, with the Democrats winning back the House, but also suggested the damage Trump himself could inflict. to the GOP, especially independent and suburban voters. . Running in the off-year election, Republicans Ed Gillespie and Kim Guadagno, in Virginia and New Jersey, respectively, were the first Republicans to see him – and keep Trump at bay. In Virginia, Trump became the first sitting president since Richard Nixon not to campaign in the race for Commonwealth governor.
Biden could ultimately prove just as damaging to the Democratic ticket in 2022. His position with the independents, a critical constituency in competitive House races, has collapsed nationally. Americans accuse Biden of being responsible for inflation, he still doesn’t have an infrastructure deal in Congress, and over 60% of voters say the country is on the wrong track.
While the party was not in power in the White House, traditionally losing seats in the first midterm presidential elections, McAuliffe admitted last month that his campaign “faced a lot of headwinds from Washington”. He told supporters on a video call that “the president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia, so we have to make do.”
A Democratic strategist who manages House and Senate races said given Biden’s dismal polls, he would advise his candidates not to approach the sitting president.
“There is simply no evidence that Biden is a net positive in the suburbs,” he said.
But Biden, so far, has not been shunned. In Virginia, where Biden beat Trump by more than 10 percentage points last year, many of the state’s most prominent Democrats participated in a photoshoot with the president on Tuesday, including five House Democrats from statewide.
Two weeks earlier, the entire Connecticut congressional delegation, the governor and mayor of the state’s largest city – all Democrats – greeted Biden at Hartford Airport upon his arrival for a day of events making promoting its Build Back Better program.
A McAuliffe adviser said the campaign had not even discussed the possibility of driving Biden away. Even though Biden’s approval rating has plummeted in Virginia, the adviser noted that among Democrats, he remains a “nice person who people trust.” It is that Democratic constituency that McAuliffe strives to become.
In New Jersey, similar forces are at work. Five House Democrats were in attendance for Biden’s appearance with Murphy on Tuesday, including Rep. Tom Malinowski, who won his district by just over a percentage point last year and is set to face re-election difficult in 2022.
Biden’s approval ratings “may sag with independents, but he’s still very popular with Democrats,” said David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s former adviser. “If you think this is a close election, in which the motivation of your base is key, Biden’s deployment makes sense.”
He added: “It will mean even more if the House passes the economic bills this week and Biden can sign the infrastructure bill.”
Republicans nationally believe Biden will be an albatross to Democrats next year. Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, told reporters Monday that he “is our best asset right now.”
But unlike previous midterms, Republicans trying to nationalize the 2022 election won’t get a free kick on Biden. That’s because Trump, the twice-indicted former president, continues to fit into the midterm campaign. In this climate, Democrats might find it helpful to quote Biden as a reminder of the alternative.
In Virginia, Trump’s impending presence has upended the president’s traditional midterm dynamic, with Democrats embracing the Biden-Trump contrast and Republicans seeking to localize the election.
McAuliffe’s opponent Glenn Youngkin slammed Biden over the news he would campaign in the state. But he didn’t make anti-Biden rhetoric a major feature of the campaign, instead focusing on education, public safety, and attacks centered on McAuliffe, not Biden.
A Youngkin adviser said that with internal polls suggesting McAuliffe is less popular than Biden in the media markets they focus on, “you have a much better electoral setup against McAuliffe than [turning the race into] Biden vs. Trump.
On the flip side, for a McAuliffe campaign that focuses primarily on training his Democratic base, Biden offers a ready-made reminder of one of the party’s main motivators: Trump.
“Biden is coming in because there are very few voters left undecided,” said Joshua Ulibarri, a Democratic pollster who polled in Virginia. “It’s all about participation now. There are more ‘us’ than them if we get there. Biden was a man with a plan and is a reminder of the Trump threat. “
If either campaign believed that a significant chunk of the electorate was yet to be won, an appearance by Biden could pose some risk to McAuliffe. But in a hyper-polarized political era, very few voters are persuaded. The biggest challenge for Democrats is a lack of enthusiasm in Virginia, with polls suggesting Republicans are more forceful to vote in the contest.
The incumbent president can be particularly compelling to voters who might otherwise be away, especially in the heavily Democratic suburbs of Washington in northern Virginia, whose proximity to Washington makes the region particularly sensitive to national politics. Voters working in the federal government or its allied industries may pay much less attention to events in Richmond than in the nation’s capital – especially young Democratic-leaning transplants from other states.
“It is so important that the incumbent president come and support you because the lives of these people revolve around federal politics and not state politics,” said Ben Tribbett, a longtime Democratic strategist based in Virginia. “Biden is popular among the Democratic base in Northern Virginia. “
Of Biden’s campaign in the state, he said: “I think it will get people to go to the polls.”