How Biden Picks Locations for His Midterm Campaign: NPR


President Biden works the phones during a grassroots volunteer event with Oregon Democrats at SEIU Local 49 in Portland, Oregon, on Friday.

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President Biden works the phones during a grassroots volunteer event with Oregon Democrats at SEIU Local 49 in Portland, Oregon, on Friday.

Carolyn Custer/AP

At Union Hall in Portland, Ore., volunteers from the state’s Democratic Party sat shoulder-to-shoulder at long tables, dialing voters on their cell phones, when President Biden walked in with a pink and white box of donuts.

“Hello, Oregon,” Biden said, pausing for applause. “I guess you’re clapping for the donuts.”

As the midterm elections approach, Biden is spending more time on the road trying to help Democratic candidates in tough races. This stop in Oregon was part of a western stop that included a stop in Colorado and several in Southern California.

But there are plenty of competitive races in other parts of the country where Biden is unwelcome. Like many presidents before him at this point in their first terms, Biden found his approval ratings underwater. Recent polls put his approval rating at just over 40%. This means there are many races where he can hurt more than help.

“The history books show that a sitting president is not a boost to their party in their midterms. If Jesus Christ himself were a sitting president, members of his political party would likely stiff him in a midterm election,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist.

But Oregon is a very blue state, which Biden easily carried into the 2020 presidential election. “Gosh, it was nice to win by 16 points,” Biden told volunteers gathered Friday night to help Tina Kotek, the candidate democrats for governor

Two years later, Democrats are nervous about a tight three-way race for governor. There is an independent candidate — a former Democrat — who could garner enough Democratic votes to open the door for Oregon’s first Republican governor in more than a generation.

The next day, Biden attended a massive fundraiser for Kotek, and the two stopped at Baskin-Robbins for some ice cream. There, as he waited for his double scoop of chocolate chips in a waffle cone, Biden said he was confident Kotek would win.

“I think people are going to show up and vote,” Biden said. “I think it will work out.”

This Western lurch was Biden’s longest campaign trip to date, but it was decidedly low-key. There were no rallies, just light public speeches about his achievements so far and a few fundraisers.

President Biden talked about cutting costs for families in Portland, a dumb speech he’s been making at all of his midterm campaign appearances.

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President Biden talked about cutting costs for families in Portland, a dumb speech he’s been making at all of his midterm campaign appearances.

Carolyn Custer/AP

That’s a change from his predecessors, former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, who held more traditional rallies before midterm elections in their first terms, said Brendan Doherty, a professor of politics at the US Naval Academy who tracks the president’s travels.

“Biden has held many official events with campaign undertones. Other presidents have done this as well, but for Biden, this is his primary way of campaigning in the run-up to the midterm elections,” Doherty said.

He is also in high demand at events to raise money for his party. At a fundraiser Friday night at a private home in Los Angeles, Biden helped raise $5 million, money that will help congressional candidates across the country, including those in at-large districts that currently don’t want to be seen publicly with Biden.

“Every president — even an unpopular president — is the most effective fundraiser in the party,” Doherty said.

And by raising money for party committees rather than individual congressional candidates, Biden is helping candidates without being directly tied to them.

Some Democratic candidates say there are scheduling conflicts when Biden comes to town, conflicts that preclude joint appearances. Republicans roundly mocked Biden and his party for this. But Democratic strategist Lis Smith, author of a campaign memoir Every Tuesday, said Biden and the Democrats are just being smart.

“This is not Joe Biden’s first rodeo. He lived through the onslaught of 2010, when Barack Obama being so visible in the middle of the election actually hurt the Democrats,” Smith said. “So he’s trying to learn from the mistakes of the past, put his ego on the back seat. And that’s the best thing for the party as a whole.”

When he announced a new conservation project in Colorado, President Biden made sure that Sen. Michael Bennet, who is in a competitive re-election race, was in the frame.

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When he announced a new conservation project in Colorado, President Biden made sure that Sen. Michael Bennet, who is in a competitive re-election race, was in the frame.

Carolyn Custer/AP

But there are places where Biden can help Democrats get out the vote: places where Democrats have a strong advantage in voter registration. In Colorado, Biden designated an important World War II training site, Camp Hale, as a new national monument. And on the perfect site, he made sure to give some extra love to Sen. Michael Bennet, who is running for re-election in a tougher-than-expected race.

“I want Michael to come back up here for a second,” Biden said, before regaling the crowd with a story about Bennett’s hard sell to get Biden to designate the monument.

President Biden greets Kevin Corbin, a heavy equipment operator on a Los Angeles subway construction project, as Congresswoman Karen Bass — who is running for mayor of Los Angeles — looks on.

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In Los Angeles, local officials lined a blue ribbon of tarmac to greet the president after he descended the steps of Air Force One. Karen Bass, the Democratic congresswoman running for mayor of Los Angeles, received a well-documented hug with Robin’s signature egg-blue airplane in the background.

The next day, Biden touted the infrastructure law at a construction site for a new subway line, calling Bass the “future lady mayor” in a speech in which he laid out the essence of his midterm message.

“We have an election in a month. The voters have to decide,” Biden said. “Democrats are working to reduce spending on things … that are talked about around the kitchen table, from prescription drugs to health insurance to energy bills and so much more.”

Biden and the White House say he will be on the road a lot over the next three weeks, though it’s unclear exactly where or with which candidates he’ll appear.

“We’re always getting incoming requests,” press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One. “Of course. Of course. We have a lot of nice things to talk about.”

So far, the only publicly announced trips for the past three weeks have been fundraisers in Pennsylvania and Florida.

President Biden eats an ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins in Portland, Oregon, at the end of his campaign in Western Europe.

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President Biden eats an ice cream cone at Baskin-Robbins in Portland, Oregon, at the end of his campaign in Western Europe.

Carolyn Custer/AP

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