Biden tests his political strength in return to the campaign trail

When he returns to the city Monday, others’ races will be front of mind, including Pennsylvania’s increasingly nasty Senate contest. Yet Biden’s own political strength will still be put to the test as he returns to the most intensive in-person politicking since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on Monday, Biden is expected to herald his economic record while celebrating “the dignity of American workers” at events with organized labor. His stop in Pittsburgh will mark his third visit to the commonwealth in the span of a week, and his 16th stop in the Keystone State since taking office.

Democrats hope to flip two Republican-held Senate seats in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and their success or failure will be viewed as a key indicator of the party’s — and Biden’s — political power ahead of the 2024 presidential contest.

Biden’s own political future was the subject of anxious speculation over the summer as the 79-year-old President suffered low approval ratings and a string of setbacks. Biden’s intentions remain a lingering question, though he insists he plans to run again.

But the unofficial kickoff to the midterm campaign season has coincided with a string of policy successes for Biden and his party, easing some of the Democratic pressure surrounding the President’s leadership and political acumen.

Biden hopes to use his recent victories to boost Democrats and avoid what once was viewed as an inevitable midterm drubbing. Biden’s advisers have laid plans for the President to travel two or three times a week in the run-up to the November vote. Because his presidential bid was hampered by the pandemic, Biden has not aggressively campaigned in-person since he was competing in the Democratic primary in early 2020.

At campaign-style events over the past two weeks, Biden has demonstrated an eager willingness for the trail. During a fiery rally in Maryland, he excoriated Republicans for standing in the way of his agenda, which he touted as transformational for middle class Americans.

Later, during an official event in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Biden called for tougher new gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons, and accused Republicans of fealty to the gun lobby.

And speaking at Independence Hall in Philadelphia last week, in what was an official White House event despite the political message, Biden issued a dire warning about “MAGA Republicans” seeking to undermine American democracy, a speech he’d been contemplating for months as he grew increasingly concerned at former President Donald Trump’s hold on the GOP.

Monday’s events signaled a return to a more consistent theme for Biden: The importance of organized labor in building the middle class and strengthening worker protections. Biden’s endorsement from key unions have helped fuel his many political campaigns, support he is consistently looking to repay.

In memos and strategy documents prepared over the month of August, Biden’s team spelled out their dual-track midterm message: framing Republicans as extremists and promoting his own list of accomplishments.

Yet for much of the summer, it remained an open question whether Biden would be a welcome guest on the campaign trail or shunned by Democrats looking to separate themselves from a historically unpopular president.

When Biden visited Cleveland in July to deliver an economic speech, Ohio’s Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Tim Ryan, declined to attend. He opted to campaign in another part of the state instead.

Other Democratic candidates declined to say explicitly whether they wanted Biden to join them on the campaign trial in the fall.

“I will welcome anybody to come to Arizona, travel around the state at any time. As long as I’m here, if I’m not up in Washington in session, and talk about what Arizona needs,” Sen. Mark Kelly, running for reelection in Arizona, said on CNN, stopping short of directly asking Biden to come.

On Monday, however, there is little sign that Democrats are avoiding the President. He is expected to appear in Milwaukee with Gov. Tony Evers, the Democratic incumbent running for reelection against Trump-backed Republican Tim Michels.

In Pittsburgh, Biden is planning to see both the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and the US Senate candidate, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.

Both Shapiro and Fetterman are also facing Trump-backed opponents, Doug Mastriano and Dr. Mehmet Oz. At a rally in Wilkes-Barre over the weekend, Trump sought to boost his endorsed candidates but spent much of his speech railing against Biden and the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate.

Trump labeled Biden an “enemy of the state” in his speech, delivered near Biden’s hometown of Scranton.

In Boston, meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris echoed Biden’s message drawing contrasts with what the White House describes as “extremist” Republicans.

“Every day, workers fight to move our country forward. And yet, we must recognize that there are those in Congress who are fighting to drag us back. In Congress, in statehouses across our nation, extremist, so-called leaders are fighting to turn back the clock,” she said during remarks to the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual breakfast.

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