Democrats are betting that President Biden and Vice President Harris can put Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman over the top despite a faltering debate performance that has operatives more worried than ever they could lose the pivotal race.
Biden and Harris will head to Philadelphia to campaign together on Friday, a rare occurrence for the duo who typically don’t travel alongside one another.
With less than two weeks till Election Day, Biden and Harris are set to participate in a reception for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
“It’s always helpful to have the two leaders of the party out there in the final push,” one Democratic strategist said of the joint appearance. “Is it risky? Maybe. But it sends a powerful message in a really important race.”
Joel Payne, another Democratic strategist backed that sentiment: “There are a few things in politics that have more capital than the bully pulpit of the White House.”
The last time Biden and Harris shared a stage outside of the White House together was the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Phoenix Awards in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1. But the two haven’t appeared together for an event outside of D.C since a January event in Atlanta.
Fetterman’s race against Republican Mehmet Oz could determine which party controls the 50-50 Senate. Pennsylvania has long been seen as the state where Democrats had the best chance of picking up a seat, as Biden carried it in the 2020 presidential election.
Fetterman has led in polls all year, but his stroke in May has led to some uncertainty on whether he can close the campaign with a victory. Democrats on Wednesday were second-guessing the decision to have him debate Oz as it brought the struggles in his recovery to the forefront.
Fetterman struggled at times to answer questions and was aided by a closed captioning system to help him understand questions.
He raised more than $1 million after the debate, however, and Biden joined other Democrats in trying to take the battle to Oz by hitting the Republican over a comment that political leaders should have a say in a woman’s ability to get an abortion.
“If Dr. Oz gets his way, where does this end? Would he recommend local officials make decisions about cancer treatments? Colonoscopies? Or is this kind of scrutiny reserved just for women?” Biden tweeted, sharing a clip of Oz’s viral answer from Tuesday night’s debate.
Much will be on the line for both Biden and Harris as the two take the stage together.
While they have a string of legislative accomplishments to tout, recent polling has shown that the Biden-Harris ticket is a drag on Democratic candidates with voters concerned over the administration’s handling of inflation.
“Their agenda is on the ballot,” said one Democratic strategist close to the White House. “For Biden, it’s about how he will be able to govern the next two years and for Harris, it’s about deepening her relationships with the Democratic coalitions and expanding her name ID.”
The Philadelphia rally with Biden and Harris on Friday is an opportunity to energize Democratic voters to increase turnout, but not necessarily change voters’ minds, argued Ivan Zapien, a lobbyist and former Democratic National Committee official.
“I think this is incredibly helpful to Fetterman. I think that you may not see it in the polls but every time you see appearances together, people come out,” he said. “The rallies at this point are more of an organization tool than they are a persuasive mechanism and I think that this will be helpful.”
Biden and Harris have both been crisscrossing the country at a healthy clip in recent days, so much that their schedules in Washington rarely overlap. It’s been so hectic that aides have had a tough time scheduling their private weekly lunch.
Yet for much of this election cycle, both Biden and Harris have kept a distance from some of the key races, rarely appearing alongside the candidates. Instead, they have raised money for the Democratic committees and have participated in events aimed at getting out the vote.
Some candidates — including Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democrat hoping to defeat J.D. Vance in the Ohio Senate race — have made it clear they don’t want the help from Biden. Asked earlier this month if he would invite Biden on the stump, Ryan didn’t mince words.
“No I’m not, and I’m really not inviting anybody,” he said in an interview on Fox News.
Fetterman at Tuesday’s debate said he would support Biden if he ran for another term. Asked if there was anything he wanted to see Biden improve upon, he mentioned inflation.
Biden considers Pennsylvania home and has visited the state numerous times throughout his presidency, including just last week to campaign with Fetterman.
And Democrats say he — along with Harris — has the ability to move voters in the final days.
“This is about motivating Democratic voters to turn out and turnout big, which they will need to do to carry Pennsylvania,” said David Thomas, former deputy director of legislative affairs for former Vice President Al Gore.
“When you get towards the end of the election, and you want the sort of biggest bang for your buck, having both of them on the stage together, you’re gonna draw your biggest crowds, you’re gonna get the most media attention, if they’re both there.”
Pennsylvania has been a key swing state for years, but Democrats had long felt relatively confident in winning it.
Then former President Trump stunned them by becoming the first GOP candidate since George H.W. Bush in 1988 to win the state in a presidential year.
“I think it’s a clear demonstration of the importance of battleground Pennsylvania, not just in this election, but in elections to come,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, of the Fetterman-Oz bout.
Both candidates are seeking to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).
Source: The Hill