President Joe Biden’s sharply sharpened political message in recent days is based on a deliberate effort to raise the stakes of a midterm election campaign, advisers say.
But it’s also a window into a vision that Biden and his top aides say is a way to defy decades of electoral odds for the first-term president’s party, if a few things can break the Democrats’ path.
Biden, in the last four days, has honestly summarized the evolution of the pendulum in recent months, the political narrative from the evolution of the Republican wave, to the Democratic push, to the moment when the Republicans look again at the majorities in the House and the Senate.
“The polls have been all over the place,” Biden said in remarks at the Democratic National Committee on Monday. “Republicans forward. Democrats ahead. Republicans forward. But, in my opinion, it will be closed after seeing one more change: the Democrats ahead in the last days.”
It was a candid acknowledgment of a moment when Democrats once again find themselves mired in a message to slow down the GOP’s momentum, a reality exacerbated by the party’s divergent views on where that message should actually land.
But Biden’s public comments also reflect a view that, two weeks after the votes are to be counted, Democrats are “very much still in the game,” one Democratic official said.
“So far, we’re running against the tide, and we’re winning against the tide,” Biden said.
Whether that will hold, especially in the home stretch where the small universe of undecided voters historically breaks away from party power, is a definite question.
Some in Biden’s party have begun to openly question the party’s message, warning that any push there may have left clear signs that Republicans are regaining the upper hand.
“We’ve managed to suck ourselves back into our circular firing squad,” said a Democratic campaign official. “It was never as good as people thought (at the end of the summer), and it’s not as bad as some are playing now. But it could be if we don’t get together.”
The weight of that history, not to mention the sharp headwinds created by economic unrest that remains the number one concern of voters in polls, is not lost on Biden or his advisers.
Inflation remains at a four-decade high and nothing the White House or Democrats have done in recent weeks will change that reality.
It’s not Biden’s own position, either, despite White House officials reporting approval ratings slightly ahead of where then-Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump were at this stage of their first terms.
Biden’s stark message has, after all, been delivered in Washington — not to be on stage next to Democratic candidates in the most heated races across the country.
That will begin to change in the coming days, advisers say, as the campaign hits the road for larger events after smaller-scale official events designed to highlight legislative achievements.
But meanwhile, with Democrats ahead or within the margin of error in critical races across the country, it has given Biden and his team a sense that things could, in part, break their way when some outside factors align to their advantage. .
They point to two factors in particular: gas prices, which have been on a steady downward trajectory for the past two weeks, and the third-quarter GDP report, which analysts expect will show solid growth after two quarters of contraction.
Officials acknowledge that the deficit in the economy, despite key legislative achievements and a historically rapid recovery from the recession during the pandemic, will not be reversed in 14 days.
But given the close correlation between gas prices and Democratic electoral expectations in recent months, they see an opportunity to at least make some gains – or fight for parity – with undecided voters or those considering whether to vote. closing days
It is this vision, more than anything else, that drives Biden’s closing message.
“Everybody wants to have a referendum, but it’s a choice between two very different visions for America,” Biden said last week.
It’s a statement that spans decades of history, showing the opposite for the party in power in the president’s first midterm election.
But officials say that in recent weeks, Republicans have exposed themselves in a particularly sharp way, proposals to abolish abortion, popular programs such as Social Security and Medicare, or many of the individual provisions established by Biden. taking the support of the Democrats in isolation.
Biden has also spent the past few weeks trying to highlight individual issues that officials see as key motivators to counter Republican enthusiasm for largely engaging voters, whether on abortion rights or Biden’s actions to cancel student loans for some borrowers. .
However, it is a closing argument that underlines a political moment that remains weak.
A burst of optimism among Democrats in late summer was fueled by major legislative victories and the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe vs. The decision to hit Wade at the end of the summer was seen by many as overly optimistic.
The structural dynamics that determine House races, due in part to redistricting, have long made holding on to an already very narrow majority a tall order. Republicans have been increasingly aggressive on spending targets in recent days, and have indicated that they see a broad map and an environment that is becoming more favorable by the day.
But Democratic candidates for the Senate are asking in battle races with narrow leads or within striking distance. There is a way to hold onto the Senate, though a sharp rift among Democrats could put some of the party’s biggest new stars in jeopardy.
More than anything else, White House officials are looking at an environment that doesn’t reflect the dynamics that led to heavy losses for Republicans in 1994, 2010 or 2018. He has identified Biden.
Do voters see this election as an opportunity or a referendum? If it’s the latter, Biden is looking at the next two years with Republicans in control of the House and Senate.
But as things stand today, despite Democratic confusion and Biden’s implicit endorsement of himself returning to Republicans, White House officials see a way to buck decades of history and stem the GOP tide.
Whether this optimism is misplaced will become clear in 14 days. But for now, Biden’s opinion is grounded as voters carry the weight of two years of combined Democratic power in Washington.
“They’ve gone back and forth, before us, they’ve gone — back and forth,” Biden said last week. “I think we will see another change in our favor in the final days.”