WASHINGTON — During a trip to Wilkes-Barre, Pa. last week, President Joe Biden lavished praise on Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman, calling him “a hell of a guy” and “a strong voice for working people.”
“He’s going to make a great United States senator,” Biden said.
But Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, was not present. The campaign said a pre-arranged fundraiser forced Fetterman to miss a White House public safety event.
Biden is a full-contact activist, known for hugging supporters, telling stories about life in Scranton, Pa., and voicing fire for the little guy. But even as his once-slumping approval ratings improve, it’s unclear how often the president will be asked to join Democratic candidates in key states and congressional districts.
“If this was a few months ago, I think most of the Democratic candidates in many of these states would be unlikely to see them with him,” said David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “Now, he’s not necessarily a huge asset to a lot of these campaigns, but he’s also not heavy on the ticket.”
Less than 70 days before the midterm elections, Biden is embarking on his first travel blitz of the season. This week, his schedule will clash with the schedules of three Democratic Senate candidates in key races, testing whether they view him as a liability or a strength in their campaigns.
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WI, PA visits on tap for Labor Day
On Monday, Biden will visit Pittsburgh and Milwaukee for Labor Day events, meeting with Fetterman and possibly Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor. Biden will travel to Licking County, Ohio on Friday. for the pioneering installation of an Intel semiconductor manufacturing plant. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Senate, confirmed he will also be there.
How warmly they welcome the president remains to be seen.
The Barnes campaign has not said whether Barnes — who is also traveling to Racine and Madison, Wisc., on the same day — will campaign with the president. While Fetterman plans to meet with Biden in Pittsburgh, the campaign sparred with the president ahead of his visit, saying he was looking forward to speaking with Biden “about the need to finally decriminalize marijuana.”
“I don’t think any of these candidates will be seen really openly embracing Biden, but I think they certainly will be at some of these joint events,” Cohen said. He added that this does not mean they will invite the president back to campaign.
The president’s trips come after Biden spoke on Thursday, warning that former President Donald Trump and “MAGA forces” were threatening US democracy and urging Americans to “vote, vote”.
Fetterman and Barnes are leading in their races over Mehmet Oz and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., respectively, according to most polls. And even Ryan – who faces an uphill race in increasingly red Ohio – is running neck-and-neck against Republican JD Vance. Some polls have Ryan ahead as Democrats try to defy initially bleak Senate outlook prospects.
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Ryan, who has run as a centrist Democrat and opposes Biden’s recent move to cancel student loan debt, did not attend this year’s White House events in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Intel’s breakthrough is not considered a political event, and there are no Biden-Ryan rallies in the works.
“He has no plans to invite the president to campaign here,” Ryan campaign spokeswoman Izzy Levy said.
White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Biden “loves to get out there and meet the American people” when asked how often the president expects to campaign for the midterms. “He wants to be out there and travel as much as possible.”
He did not address Ryan’s decision not to invite the president to Ohio.
Biden’s rising approval ratings reduce the damage to Democratic candidates
Biden is experiencing a rebound in approval ratings, reversing numbers that once dipped below 40 percent after a string of legislative victories in Congress and lower gas prices, a Gallup poll found 44 percent of Americans approve of the performance of Biden, marking his highest rating in a year. A new CBS News poll has Biden’s approval rating at 45 percent. And a Quinnipiac University poll found Biden’s approval rating up 9 points from last month to 40 percent.
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However, Biden’s job performance is viewed negatively by the majority of Americans, according to the same polls.
“Right now, the reality is that the disapproval of his work is greater than the approval,” said David Paleologos, director of the Center for Policy Research at Suffolk University in Boston. But he called Biden’s speech last week on democracy a “potential springboard” for his visits to Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, noting that Republican Senate candidates in each are strongly aligned with Trump.
In remarks outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Biden warned that “equality and democracy are under attack,” singling out Trump and his supporters who are denying the results of the 2020 presidential election and refusing to condemn the 6 January 2021 at the US Capitol.
“It’s kind of an amplification of the point he made,” Paleologue said of the president’s upcoming visits to the trio of Rust Belt states.
Recent victories encourage Democrats
Democrats, who once looked set for a potentially disastrous midterm election, have found new reasons for optimism after multiple congressional victories in special elections.
There are signs that Democrats are energized by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Both Biden and Democrats have passed major legislation in recent weeks, culminating in the Lower Inflation Act, which includes historic climate funding and gives Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.
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“Biden and his accomplishments are an asset, and I think part of what the Democrats are going to put forward is what he’s been able to accomplish,” said Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee and a former Biden White House aide. “If the president or the vice president came to my district, I would stand with them, because you stand with their achievements.”
However, Richmond said candidates must conduct the campaign activities required in their states and districts.
“If those things conflict with a national visit, then that will happen sometimes.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden’s political mettle will be tested during midterm blitz