opinion | Biden Isn’t Yet The Undercurrent Republicans Expected

The most troubling moment this week came when President Biden forgot the late Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) during a White House hunger conference that she was killed in a car accident this summer. As he looked around the crowd on Wednesday, he asked, “Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?”

It was a rare breakthrough for Republicans desperate to keep Biden at the forefront after abortion rights were rolled back and former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles were in the spotlight all summer. Biden’s outburst sparked new rounds of stories about the 79-year-old president’s mental acuity. Conservative media outlets such as National Review sent out push alerts on the subject, and commentators on Newsmax said the cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment. The blunder broke through in a way that few Biden blunders do.

But it also served as a reminder that, contrary to his own expectations, Biden has benefited from a low profile this summer. The fewer voters hear of him, the more popular other Democratic candidates seem to be.

Republicans, of course, are working hard to reverse this dynamic. They spent $67 million from late July through September to air 152,669 commercials linking Biden to Democrats set to appear on the ballot in November, according to tracking company AdImpact. In contrast, Democrats spent $30 million to run 68,000 ads calling on Trump during the same period before the 2018 midterms.

But despite the flow of GOP spending, Democrats all over the map continue to outrun Biden and stay competitive in key races. The president’s approval rating is 39 percent in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. But the same survey found that 46 percent of registered voters prefer Democratic candidates, just one point behind Republicans. Thirteen percent of voters who disapprove of Biden still intend to support Democrats. Other reliable polls show similar deviations.

Biden is — at least so far — not the undercurrent Republicans had counted on. The Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in June bullied suburban women who previously focused on inflation and the economy. And the passage in August of the Inflation Reduction Act, which included the largest-ever investment in fighting climate change, gave younger voters new energy. Meanwhile, revelations from the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 uprising and the recovery of classified material from Mar-a-Lago reminded many independents why they turned against Trump two years ago.

Democratic candidates, meanwhile, are keeping their distance from the president. It spoke volumes that Senator Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) did not join the Atlanta Braves as they celebrated their World Series win with Biden at the White House on Monday. The National Republican Senatorial Commission spends seven figures to run an ad in Georgia stating that Warnock votes with Biden 96 percent of the time. On the spot, the senator looks in a mirror and sees Biden. Such advertisements are played from coast to coast. In Wisconsin, for example, you might think from his commercials that Republican Tim Michels is up against Biden, not government Tony Evers (D), who is more popular than the president.

Biden has long argued that the Democrats screwed up during the 2010 midterms by not aggressively touting what they’ve accomplished. He has often shared how he urged Barack Obama to make a victory round after the Affordable Care Act was passed, but the then president said he didn’t have time. “As a result, no one knew the details of the legislation,” Biden said at a press conference in January. “The difference is that I will be out and about a lot defending the case across the country, with my colleagues up for re-election.”

But Biden hasn’t traveled much. He doesn’t hold as many meetings as his predecessors or give as many interviews. The Walorski blunder shows why this approach might make sense.

The president postponed a planned political trip to Florida this week because of Hurricane Ian. He plans one or two trips a week in the run-up to the election and will focus on the industrial Midwest, from Pennsylvania to Michigan and Wisconsin. Whether he will head west to punch in Nevada and Arizona is an open question.

But if it is up to the candidates themselves, perhaps Biden can help them the most by staying at home.

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