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Biden fails to stifle Democratic angst with New Hampshire win

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President Biden’s write-in win in New Hampshire Tuesday did little to stifle the angst Democrats have when it comes to the general election, a contest that is shaping up to be a likely 2020 rematch against former President Trump.

Biden was able to brush off long-shot primary challengers and gain some momentum among Democrats by pulling off the write-in win in the Granite State. But, without increasing his polling numbers against Trump and without his campaign proving it is in high gear, concerns still linger over whether he could beat his predecessor again.

Some prominent Democrats describe the Biden campaign as one that is struggling, a notion the campaign rejects at every turn despite much of its messaging failing to resonate with voters, according to a spate of national polls that also show record-low approval ratings for the president.

“There’s something wrong with this campaign where we’re somehow expecting Joe Biden, who frankly hid during the last campaign, to come out now and be Flash Gordon and save his own campaign. The people who are benefiting from the Biden economy, and they exist, should be empowered to speak,” CNN’s Van Jones, a former aide to then-President Obama, said Wednesday.

David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser, has been voicing his alarm over Biden’s polling numbers, his age and his potential performance against Trump for months. 

“They’re going to be spending more time talking about Donald Trump than Joe Biden,” Axelrod said on CNN, calling the general election “trench warfare.”

The next major test for Biden will be in South Carolina next month, a state that helped solidify his 2020 nomination and one that he urged be allowed to be first in the 2024 primary season for Democratic voters. In New Hampshire, which holds open primaries, Biden’s write-in campaign handily beat those of Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), but that likely won’t ease worries yet about whether Biden can win a second term in November.

“It should soften some of the panic but probably won’t because everyone knows this will be a close election,” said a Democratic strategist, adding that the reality of a Biden-Trump 2024 rematch hasn’t yet “sunk in” for many voters.

The aggregation of polls kept by Decision Desk HQ and The Hill shows Trump with a lead of 1.8 percentage points over Biden. 

A Economist/ YouGov poll released Tuesday showed 44 percent of Americans would vote for Trump and 43 percent for Biden if the election were held now. That same poll released last week had Biden leading Trump at 44 percent compared to 43 percent.

Those tallies have worried many Democrats, though they often make the point that things could look much different for Biden in the general election.

“We are not where we want to be, we want to be further. We want to be ahead in the race. We’ve got work to do,” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg said. “That’s why it’s important the campaign turns on and starts putting people to work.”

Rosenberg though was optimistic that a narrow focus on the general election will help the campaign and get more voters engaged.

“I think once we start to get into the rhythm of the general election, the next few weeks, people are going to calm down and start just putting their head back to work and not being so worried,” he said. “I think some of the worry was … people were seeing Republicans running around campaigning and we weren’t. That’s already changing.”

The Biden campaign, in its shift to the general election, is leaning on the fact that Biden beat Trump in 2020 to argue that he will be able to do it again.

“Trump’s party is divided and now he’s about to face the only politician who has ever beaten him and who did so with more votes than any presidential candidate in history,” deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks told reporters Wednesday.

But other polling from this week had Trump ahead of Biden, including a Bullfinch Group/Independent Center poll that showed Trump leading at 47 percent compared to Biden at 42 percent and a new Morning Consult poll that showed Trump with 45 percent support and Biden with 40 percent. 

The campaign, like it has for months, largely dismissed poor polling against Trump, with campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond calling the surveys “just a snapshot in time.”

“We’re going to run like we’re behind,” Richmond, a former White House adviser to Biden, told reporters. “Do we think we’re going to win? Absolutely.”

Other Democrats hope New Hampshire means the campaign will ramp up, which could lead to better polls.

“New Hampshire’s results have clarified who the nominees will be, and more importantly, what the stakes are for the country. The Biden reelect started defining the contrast last night as soon as the polls closed. I suspect this will be good for the president and it will be reflected in polls as more Americans focus on the race,” said David Thomas, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Vice President Al Gore.

Biden set out on two back-to-back campaign events this week and also further beefed up the campaign team with Biden’s 2020 campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, moving from her role at the White House to be campaign chair. Mike Donilon, a senior adviser in the White House, will also move to the campaign as chief strategist. 

Democrats see those moves as a sign that the campaign is ready to step up its game, particularly after Obama expressed concerns to Biden about the importance of having more top-level decision makers in the campaign headquarters or empowering those already there, according to reporting by The Washington Post.

“The Democratic party is embracing him as their candidate, a robust write-in campaign proves it,” said David Castagnetti, who was top liaison to Congress for former Democratic nominee John Kerry’s presidential run. “President Biden is in full reelection mode with the addition of Jen O’Malley Dillon and Mike Donilon.”

Biden has increasingly been attacking Trump in speeches, especially focused on the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol, abortion access and the economy. The president will travel to Wisconsin, a battleground state, on Thursday, and he will travel to South Carolina, the state that in part brought him his 2020 victory, this weekend.

Biden moving on from the primaries, after handedly beating his challengers in New Hampshire, is the right strategy for right now, said Ivan Zapien, a former Democratic National Committee official.

“The primaries are a sideshow in 2024, and the Biden campaign is focused and gearing up for the main event,” Zapien said. “In my view, that is the right approach.”

Source: The Hill

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