WASHINGTON – When Representative Lauren Underwood’s first campaign to Congress sought momentum in the final days of its ascending run in 2018, Joe Biden was one of the few notable Democrats to run, bringing together more than 1,000 voters in the suburb of Chicago.
And as the Underwood team began planning for what will likely be an unpredictable 2022 re-election bid, they asked the House Democrats’ campaign arm early to have the president campaigning with them again. this year – only to find out White House had already viewed his district in Illinois as a natural fit to promote his plan to significantly expand the social safety net.
When he arrived at a Republican-leaning party in his neighborhood swing this month to push his spending plan forward, he also made sure to hug her at the same time, praising Underwood’s leadership on an issue. key for her: maternal mortality. His comments will now be part of his television commercial.
“We’re taking that down to one point,” said Ronnie Cho, Underwood senior advisor and 2018 campaign manager.
The 2022 midterm elections are still over 16 months away. But Biden’s visit to the district this month provided a glimpse into Biden’s White House plan to try to protect the very thin Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, even as he struggles to put implementing the president’s program now.
The White House’s medium-term strategy seems simple: adopt policies that bring tangible benefit to the lives of ordinary Americans and travel the country to make sure voters know it. But while the president has already secured a $ 1.9 trillion bill that includes payments of $ 1,400 and money to raise children, success will ultimately depend on the passage of infrastructure and economic plans. of Biden’s $ 4 trillion, which remains moving on Capitol Hill. Historical trends, for their part, are formidable.
The outgoing president’s party, with rare exceptions, typically loses ground in midterm races. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump saw a 40-seat swing in the House that brought Democrats to power for the first time since 2011, when it was President Barack Obama’s Democrats who suffered a electoral bombardment by the GOP.
Biden’s advisers and their Democratic partners hope to reverse this trend, aided by the fact that the president still enjoys favorable approval ratings and that his economic proposals are widely popular. And for now, at least, Democrats lower in the ballot see a stronger partnership than was the case under Obama, exemplified by those like Underwood who welcome Biden to their turf.
With plans for an active travel program to promote policy proposals tailored to middle-class voters, Biden has long considered his base, the administration is laying the groundwork to continue helping vulnerable Democrats advocate for the extension. one-party control of Washington with the mantra that “good governance equals good politics and good politics,” as Emmy Ruiz, White House director of political strategy, told NBC News in an interview.
“The last time Democrats had a good off-year election with a new president was in 1934 under Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” said Brad Miller, a former Democratic congressman who represented North Carolina from 2003 to 2013. “And that’s because people looked at the New Deal and said, ‘Yes! This is what we want you to do! Do more!’ “
Miller said that while a 1934-style election is unlikely, Biden is wise to take a page off Roosevelt and call for trillions of dollars in economic safety net spending and tax hikes for the Rich: “If they’re seen as having responded to a pretty big crisis in the economy, then that will help a lot.”
That’s what Biden’s team has in mind, even as Republicans telegraph unified opposition to a $ 3.5 trillion package, complaining of runaway spending and claiming it will exacerbate inflation.
When Democrats secured an extension of the child tax credit as part of their $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, Gene Sperling, the man responsible for overseeing its implementation, said he held meetings three times a week with IRS officials to make sure the credit could be paid off. directly to beneficiaries monthly, rather than as a year-end deduction.
The White House in turn launched a campaign-style blitz last week promoting direct deposits of $ 250 or $ 300 per child as they began to hit bank accounts on July 15.
“These are changes that improve people’s lives. And if that’s what we’re talking about a year and three months from now, I think we welcome this conversation, ”Ruiz said.
This tour, and others, often dovetailed with the midterm battlefields.
The president, vice president and other senior administration officials have crisscrossed the country this year to promote other benefits of Biden’s bailout, including a Biden shutdown in Georgia, the state that aided to place him in the White House and gave Democrats control of the Senate. .
To sell his infrastructure program, Biden most recently traveled to the Underwood district – one that Trump won in 2016 and only lost narrowly to Biden four years later – and another to Wisconsin which is one of seven in the country that Trump has carried but is represented by a Democrat in the House.
On Wednesday, Biden will visit a union training center in Cincinnati, Ohio, a state with a key Senate race in 2022, and just across the river from another represented by Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Kentucky Senate.
Biden will hold his first public campaign rally since taking office on Friday, making a short trip to Virginia to support the state’s Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking to return to the Statehouse in November in a state where governors cannot run for re-election.
“We have built great alliances and great partnerships with swing state governors, with mayors. So of course, those are all considerations, ”Ruiz said when asked about the president’s politically-tinged travels. “But our # 1 consideration is taking this story and getting this message out to the American people. We have to be smart about it, and we are. “
“It’s a little taste of how much you can expect him to have Democrats’ backs on,” she added.
In 2010, vulnerable Democrats largely kept Obama at bay as Republicans campaigned against the Affordable Care Act and against debt and deficits. And four years later, it was even more often Biden who visited battlefield races – he organized more than 114 events for 66 different Democratic candidates, committees and parties.
This is a stark contrast due to a very different political landscape. A political realignment made Democrats stronger in the suburbs and less dependent on culturally conservative rural areas. There are far fewer voters likely to “split” their tickets among candidates from different parties. And many Democrats, after trying and failing in the Obama era, have found that running away from the president doesn’t help.
But there is also a racial component, according to Democratic strategists. Biden, an older white man, doesn’t generate the racial backlash that the first black president did.
Biden “doesn’t seem culturally scary” to voters in competitive districts, Miller said, adding, “He’s not culturally threatening. Obama was. There was just a big mess of cultural unrest around him. ‘Obama.
Cornell Belcher, a former Obama pollster, said he was struck while watching a group of Republicans last month join Biden for a friendly White House press conference to discuss a bipartisan infrastructure deal. ‘they had just concluded.
“They never wanted photo ops with Barack Obama. They never wanted to be seen as trying to work with Barack Obama to accomplish anything, ”Belcher said.
Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has not mince words when describing how the party is working to avoid a repeat of Obama’s midterm beating.
“After the 2008 race, we ditched the 50 state strategy,” Harrison said. “We have stopped sending resources to States Parties to build their operations, to make sure we have the organizers on the ground. We did not register voters. States were therefore almost on their own. This is no longer the case. “
So far this year, the DNC has announced pledges of $ 25 million for a voter protection campaign to thwart recent GOP-backed electoral law changes, $ 23 million to be invested in states parties and $ 20 million directly targeting the midterm elections.
“All of this wouldn’t have happened without Joe Biden’s blessing,” he said. “This guy believes in the party. He believes in the DNC. He believes in the basics. And so I would expect him to travel across the country on behalf of the Democrats halfway through, for the Vice President to travel across the country on behalf of the Democrats midway through. “
Biden’s advisers note that the longtime senator has always been engaged in congressional and off-year races. In 2018, Biden visited 24 states for events with 65 candidates, including 18 public rallies after Labor Day – like the late shutdown with Underwood – which also served as a first test for his 2020 presidential campaign message.
Alex Conant, a seasoned Republican strategist, said Democrats shouldn’t be too comfortable with Biden’s popularity at this point.
“I think Obama was still very popular at this point in his presidency,” he said in an email, noting that the approval ratings for the former Democratic president had plummeted as the elections approached. 2010 election. “It could always happen to Biden, in which case they will likely have similar experiences halfway through.”