Biden to make low-key tour of California, Colorado, Oregon

Less than four weeks before the midterm elections that will decide control of Congress, President Biden is scheduled to hit the campaign trail Thursday in Los Angeles, where his only public appearance will be alongside mayoral candidate Karen Bass.

Biden’s four-day western swing, which began Wednesday in highland Colorado, is as remarkable for where he’s not going as where he is. The trip, which was built around a high-dollar fundraiser for Democratic House candidates Thursday night in Los Angeles, will not include trips to Arizona or Nevada, two western states with hard-fought Senate races that could shift the balance of power in Washington.

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, the only imperiled Democratic senator to appear with Biden during this rare trip west, welcomed Biden to his state on Wednesday, largely because the president took action that lawmakers had been pushing for. At an event high in the Rocky Mountains, Biden created his first new national monument at Camp Hale, a World War II-era training camp now protected from development by oil and gas companies.

Bennet, speaking at Camp Hale, focused solely on the monument’s designation, telling the president that “Colorado will forever be grateful” for protecting the area. Biden, who followed the senator at the President’s podium, called Bennet the key person who “finally made this happen.”

If Democrats are a little squeamish about embracing Biden in the final month of the campaign, it’s hardly a historic departure, as incumbent presidents have almost always faced strong political headwinds in their first midterm elections — and seen their party lose seats.

According to polls, Biden is slightly less polarizing than his three most recent predecessors. But the Democrats seem to avoid him anyway.

“Biden is not a polarizing figure, either personally or politically. There’s nothing that makes it a focal point for voters,” said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster in Washington. “But instead they’re looking at the broader landscape and where things stand, particularly in terms of the economy. The key question for this year is: will voters pay attention to how far we’ve come? Or how far do we have to go?”

That the Democrats have any chance of retaining the party’s narrow majority in Congress reflects the unique and volatile political environment.

The Supreme Court’s historic June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has stirred women across the usual political divide, leading to a surge in voter registration and bolstering Biden’s efforts to characterize Republicans as extremists. This year’s House Committee hearings, which revisited the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot, and the revelation that the FBI had to seize confidential classified national security documents from President Trump’s Florida home have made Biden’s case only helped.

But the complex political environment and an electorate that remains chiefly concerned about inflation have made it difficult for pollsters and election forecasters to determine which way the wind is really blowing.

“There’s just a lot of swirling around in the atmosphere and you don’t know where it’s all going to end up,” Hart said. For the Democrats in November’s election, “there is something to sell,” he continued. “But you have to get the voters over their shoulders. There are real achievements, but some voters won’t be able to see them through more immediate concerns about inflation and uncertainty.”

When Biden makes the Democrats’ case, he often highlights the major legislative wins of the past two years — a pandemic relief bill, a bipartisan infrastructure overhaul, and an investment package that will reduce prescription drug costs and tackle climate change — and provides the Democratic leadership as a moderate alternative to an extreme Republican party defined by Trump and his cronies.

Emmy Ruiz, the White House policy director, said the administration’s accomplishments allow Biden and the Democrats to make an unusually strong positive case to voters. That’s a stark contrast to 2010, when the recent passage of the Affordable Care Act put Democrats on the defensive and ultimately led to a disastrous midterm election.

“We have a real record that we can continue on,” said Ruiz. “We have really tangible results that we’ve delivered for the American people, real bipartisan results that we’ve delivered for the American people.”

It’s unclear whether the landmark legislation will be a major factor for voters more activated by abortion, extremism or the economy. Biden has largely shied away from focusing on other efforts aimed at increasing Democrat turnout: debt relief for student loans and pardons for federal marijuana crimes. His ability to focus the electorate on his achievements – or much of anything – is limited. But his reserved style and non-intrusiveness leave room for candidates to define their own races, his personality isn’t so toxic that it would inspire more Republicans to just vote against him.

“He’s not a polarizing figure. He’s someone known for his ability to bring people together,” Ruiz said. “Look at the 2018 Midterms: President Biden went to states most Democrats don’t go to, at least not the national Democrats, and he was asked to do so. That was one of his defining abilities, being able to travel to places other Democrats can’t.”

But even after two years of significant gains, Biden is nowhere near the most competitive battlefields. As the Republican National Committee noted in a memo this week, Biden has focused his campaign in traditionally blue states: Maryland, New York, and now California and Oregon.

“The reality is Democrats are fighting to shore up important races,” said Emma Vaughn, press secretary for the RNC. “Biden is now traveling to places that went by more than 10 points for him in the last election.” Biden to make low-key tour of California, Colorado, Oregon

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