Biden hopes to boost Fetterman in Pennsylvania midterm

President Biden stood on the edge of a bridge with Pennsylvania Senate nominee John Fetterman on Thursday and spoke mostly about the bridge.

The structure, which partially collapsed in January and was rebuilt with $25 million in federal funding after the passage of last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, served to illustrate the president’s reasoning ahead of next month’s midterm elections: The Democrats have done great things, to improve the situation of Americans everyday.

The bridge collapse in January happened on a day when Biden was visiting Pittsburgh to talk infrastructure.

“It should never have happened,” Biden said, lamenting that previous administrations failed to act to improve the country’s roads and bridges.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure overhaul is “the most significant investment in American infrastructure … since Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System,” Biden said. The funds, he explained, allowed the Pennsylvania governor to expedite repairs on the bridge, which is scheduled to reopen in December, much sooner than the two to five years normally required for such a reconstruction project.

“By Christmas, God willing, I’ll be back to walk over this sucker,” Biden said, explaining that repairing the structure is “really important” to the people of the city, noting that the project will help created 100 jobs. “This law is about more than rebuilding our infrastructure,” he continued. “It’s about rebuilding the middle class.”

Though Biden briefly recognized Fetterman as he took the stage, the event under the Fern Hollow Bridge in the city’s East End marked a continuation of the president’s medium-term strategy of staying above the fray. The president eschews major campaign rallies and uses more low-key official events to promote what he and the Democrats have accomplished. He aims to improve his party’s medium-term prospects by drawing political contrasts rather than more targeted attacks on individual GOP candidates.

“Thank you for running,” Biden said to Fetterman, who greeted him at the airport and had the front row seat for his speech. It was one of only a few clues to the candidate, who will appear again with the President at a fundraiser in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

The trip was Biden’s first visit in recent weeks to one of the six states with the hottest Senate races and his closest campaign yet with a Democratic candidate in a marquee race. In a four-day western swing last week, the president skipped Arizona and Nevada, both home to top-flight Senate races, to run in Colorado, California and Oregon instead.

Pennsylvania, Biden’s birthplace, is a different story. Born in Scranton, he has been running ads in the Philadelphia television market, which reaches parts of his home state, for decades. His victory here in 2020, which helped secure the presidency, resulted in part from a unique appeal to working-class voters. And as he noted during his speech under a giant yellow crane, this visit was his 19th trip to the state since taking office.

“It fits in here a little better than maybe in some other states,” said JJ Balaban, a Democratic policy adviser in Philadelphia. Biden, who isn’t shy about using his Scranton roots as a cultural signifier, ran ahead of most Democrats in the 2020 statewide vote. “There’s just a certain cultural consistency. There’s a certain affection for him,” Balaban continued. “There are enough people who like the cut of his jib that it’s still a net positive and makes him an acceptable face for the Democratic Party.”

Fetterman, unlike some Democrats in other frontrunners in the Senate, appears to be losing momentum in the final weeks of the campaign as he is plagued by nagging questions about his health after suffering a stroke earlier this year.

When Fetterman’s post-stroke disability became a debate this month after he used closed captions in on-camera interviews, the White House — often wary of political briefing room talk — vouched for his ability to serve in the Senate. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Monday that after speaking to Fetterman several times recently, Biden “has found him to be an impressive personality … just as capable as ever.”

After some initial slips, Republican Mehmet Oz, the former TV doctor who was backed by President Trump, has closed a double-digit deficit and attacked Fetterman with a barrage of TV ads accusing him of being lenient with crime. According to the average of 538 polls, Fetterman leads Oz by 5%. But the two most recent polls in the race, both by GOP polling sites, showed Fetteman’s lead at 2%.

“Joe Biden and John Fetterman embody everything that is wrong with today’s Democratic Party – radical, carefree and outspoken,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “Keystone State is experiencing sky-high inflation and runaway crime because of career far-left politicians like Biden and Fetterman.”

Fetterman, who makes a game for more moderate Republicans who didn’t support Oz in the primary, has directed television spots featuring testimonials from GOP voters explaining why they support him, a Democrat. Another ad acknowledged Democrats’ greatest responsibility: the economy, which he says is “a mess because of Washington.”

Biden, who spoke on inflation on Wednesday and announced another release from the country’s emergency oil reserve in hopes of adding enough supplies to stave off a further rise in gas prices, has focused much of his campaign-season travel on what he’s doing and the Democrats in Congress have done. But even after passing several key pieces of legislation, Biden and Democrats are struggling to get voters to look beyond the current economic pain to appreciate the long-term implications of lower drug prices and investments in infrastructure and climate.

“Voters expected Trump to get rid of them and that everything would be fine,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. “The fact is, it was tough sledding. It’s not necessarily the president’s fault, but people are looking for simpler times.”

While not every Democratic candidate is eager to wrestle Biden, most are benefiting from the money he raises. The Democratic National Committee, which has raised $271 million this cycle, has increased its spending by 25% in Pennsylvania, supporting voter registration, paid advertising and voting efforts.

And many candidates are banking on the achievements that Biden is promoting in the campaign.

“People underestimate Joe Biden at their peril,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat who has been stumbling across the state for Fetterman since finishing behind him in the primary earlier this year. “He’s doing what Democrats need to be doing in this moment to speak about the truly transformative things that the President and Congressional Democrats were able to achieve by a very narrow majority.”

Biden, he said, “is talking about things that people can see, feel and touch. persons [in Pittsburgh] were scared that a damn bridge might just collapse while they’re on it. Biden is here now, saying that the bridge all those past presidents vowed to fix, he actually did. That’s really important for people.” Biden hopes to boost Fetterman in Pennsylvania midterm

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