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Vulnerable House Democrats stick by Biden as GOP attack ads ramp up

<i>Sipa USA</i><br/>From left to right
Sipa USA
From left to right

By Melanie Zanona, CNN

House Democrats in competitive races are putting little daylight between themselves and President Joe Biden, even as Republicans ratchet up their efforts to use the President as a cudgel against their Democratic opponents in the midterm elections.

After struggling for months to dent Biden’s popularity, House Republicans finally see an opening with his sagging approval ratings and are looking to take full advantage. The House GOP’s campaign arm rolled out new attack ads this week tying 17 House Democrats to Biden and their $3.5 trillion economic bill — the GOP’s first campaign blitz directly linking the most vulnerable Democrats to the President.

And during a political GOP conference meeting on Tuesday, House Republican leaders shared polling in several key swing districts where Biden’s numbers are underwater, according to a source in the room. Among the seats they singled out were Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa, Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire.

“Everything (Biden) touches becomes a disaster,” said Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the vice chairman of the House GOP conference. “The longer he serves, the better off we are for the next election cycle. And I think the polling numbers show that.”

“It is not a good trend for the Democrats,” he added.

A president’s job approval rating is one of the strongest indicators of how their party will perform in the midterms, and Republicans see Biden as increasingly toxic in battleground districts. The president’s party typically loses 26 seats in their first midterm, and the GOP needs to flip only five to seize back power next year. Ahead of the 2010 midterm “shellacking,” some Democrats had distanced themselves from Barack Obama as voters soured on the then-President.

A series of polls released last week found Biden’s approval rating underwater and down significantly from earlier this year. A CNN Poll of Polls of five surveys of adults conducted entirely in September shows that Biden’s approval rating averages 45% approve to 51% disapprove.

But so far, Democrats are showing zero signs they’re sweating the GOP’s efforts to yoke them to Biden or expressing any concern about his decline in poll numbers. In fact, several of them who were targeted by the latest ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee said they’d welcome the President into their districts with open arms.

Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey said he would have Biden campaign in his district “any day, any time.” Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia said she would “absolutely” welcome both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. And Rep. Haley Stevens said the President is “doing a great job” and “should come to Michigan.”

“I’m very proud of the way he is leading with science,” said Stevens, who noted that Biden had won Oakland County by 100,000 votes. “I am very proud that he loves the auto industry and is going to support what we do in Michigan manufacturing.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s 17 new digital spots attempt to paint vulnerable Democrats as foot soldiers of Biden who are going to support the “biggest tax hike in decades.” The ads also use an out-of-context clip of Biden saying “your taxes are going to be raised, not cut,” even though he has said he would support tax hikes only on the wealthiest Americans.

“House Democrats are helping Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi pass the biggest tax hike in decades,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer of Minnesota said in a statement. “With costs already through the roof, the last thing middle-class Americans need is the government taking more money from their paychecks. Voters will hold every Democrat who votes for this reckless tax and spending spree accountable.”

Democrats aren’t yet sounding the alarm over Biden’s approval ratings, which have taken a dip following the surge in the Delta coronavirus variant and the administration’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan. They argue there is plenty of time for things to trend back in the right direction.

“Presidents go up and down,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was one of the Democrats targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee. “We get this stuff done, he’s going to go back up.”

But Democrats in front-line districts are warning about their party’s electoral prospects next year if they don’t deliver on key pillars of Biden’s domestic agenda, which faces an uncertain path in Congress. Front-line Democrats have publicly and privately implored their colleagues not to sink a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill when it comes up for a vote on Thursday, and some of them encouraged the President to get more engaged in the negotiations. Yet many progressives are still holding firm that they won’t support the measure unless Democrats first pass legislation to expand the social safety net and address climate change.

“This has to work, because we need the Biden presidency to succeed, and if the Biden presidency doesn’t succeed, democracy doesn’t succeed,” said Malinowski. “We have to land these bills. So I’m not concerned about Biden’s approval ratings today, but I am concerned about getting this stuff done.”

Notching a key victory on something as popular as roads and bridges could not only lift Biden’s poll numbers, but also provide a big boost to House Democrats in competitive districts, who don’t want to return to their districts empty-handed once again.

Centrist Democrats, however, are determined to scale back the size and scope of the massive economic package, with Republicans signaling that they plan to label Democrats as “tax-and-spend liberals” in the midterms. And even Democratic leaders have acknowledged that the price of the economic plan has to get shaved down to win over moderates in both chambers.

Still, even as the GOP hammers Democrats over their combined $5 trillion in proposed spending, Democrats are making clear that they see passage of both bills as key to their midterm success. This summer, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, encouraged vulnerable House Democrats to run as “Biden Democrats” and tout the President’s economic agenda, which remains largely popular with voters.

When asked about the GOP’s new efforts to make Biden into a midterm bogeyman, Maloney responded: “I’ll let the NRCC come up with their own dumbass strategy.”

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