Three presidents — one incumbent and two former — descend on Pennsylvania on Saturday for a final midterm push that underlines the stakes in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races.
For President Joe Biden, who will hold a rare joint appearance with former President Barack Obama in Philadelphia intended to boost Democratic nominee Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Pennsylvania will amount to a political stress test in his home state. , where he has traveled 20 times since taking office.
For former President Donald Trump, who is gathering outside Pittsburgh in the town of Latrobe, a victory for his hand-picked candidate Dr Mehmet Oz could prove his own enduring viability in a Commonwealth he narrowly lost in 2020.
The consequences extend well beyond next week’s election. As Trump prepares to announce a third presidential bid, potentially in the coming weeks, Biden aides are taking their own first steps toward mounting a re-election campaign. During a multi-hour streak on Saturday afternoon, the dynamics of a potential rematch in 2020 will be laid bare.
The moment marks a historical anomaly. Past presidents have generally waded only sparingly into day-to-day politics, mostly avoiding direct criticism from the men in the office they once held. Not since Grover Cleveland in 1892 has a defeated one-term president returned to win the White House again.
The convergence of presidents in Pennsylvania, each warning of dire consequences if the opposing party prevails, reflects the changed standards Trump rushed into when he took office nearly six years ago, swiftly leveling false accusations against Obama espionage and general embezzlement.
Biden, who spent much of his first year in office trying to avoid saying Trump’s name, is no longer so cautious. He called out “Trump and all his Trumpies” at a rally in California this week and identified Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “Trump incarnate” at a fundraiser outside Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. At his own rallies, Trump plays a video reel of slip-ups to cast his successor as a gaffe-prone senior — though he hasn’t sued Obama as often.
Obama, meanwhile, has issued his harshest criticism of the casting of Trump-backed candidates, many of whom deny the 2020 election results and have taken inspiration from the 45th president.
“It doesn’t work just because someone is on TV. Turns out being president or governor is about a lot more than clean lines and good lighting,” Obama said last week in Arizona of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former news anchor local.
The Pennsylvania Senate and Governors contests are the only headline races of this year’s midterm cycle that Biden has entered multiple times. In other high-profile races, candidates have kept their distance from a president with submerged approval ratings.
That has not been the case with Obama, who has been in high demand by Democrats in close races. In the final weeks of the campaign, Obama held raucous rallies in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada — all states Biden has avoided in recent months as candidates scramble to ward off the republican momentum.
It’s a 180-degree turn from midterm cycles during Obama’s presidency, when Biden ventured into more states — including conservative-leaning districts — where the sitting president was seen as a brake on Democratic candidates.
Biden is hardly angered or even surprised that Obama sucks on the campaign trail this year, officials say. He has discussed some of the races with his former boss and believes Obama’s message both resonates with voters and is complementary to his own.
Yet their joint appearance on Saturday will only serve to underscore their differing styles and political abilities — a comparison that even some Democrats say ultimately favors Obama.
“I know you always ask me how we are. We will win this time I think. I feel really good about our chances,” Biden told reporters Friday in California.
The president was optimistic about Democrats’ chances next week, even as many Democrats grow increasingly worried about their party’s prospects. His campaign schedule — in blue states rushing for candidates in tighter-than-expected races — is itself a signal of Democrats’ vulnerabilities.
In the final days of the campaign, Biden traveled mostly to blue states he won but where Democrats are nonetheless staging tighter-than-expected races. He stopped in New Mexico, California and Illinois before heading to Pennsylvania on Saturday and will campaign with New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Sunday. He will spend the day before the election in Maryland.
People familiar with Biden’s thinking say he accepts that not all Democratic candidates will welcome him as a surrogate as long as his approval ratings remain underwater. And he told his fellow Democrats he respects their political intuition when it comes to their own races.
But he has grown frustrated with coverage suggesting he is a political albatross, according to people familiar with the conversations, arguing that his policies – when properly explained – are hugely popular with voters.
Compared to Obama and Trump, Biden has held far fewer campaign rallies for his party this midterm cycle. Most of his engagements over the past month have been formal events, delivered to crowds that sometimes number only a few dozen.
His rallies began to draw larger crowds in the final days of the campaign. Six hundred people had to be turned away from an event in Southern California on Friday, according to the White House. And Biden addressed an overflowing crowd in New Mexico who couldn’t enter the main venue when he hosted a rally with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“I know you don’t think so, but I think we have good crowds. They are quite enthusiastic. You don’t write it that way, but they are,” Biden said as he left California on Friday.
Yet his events did not generate the same electricity as Obama’s. The former president has pounced on Trump and his cronies running for office at his series of rallies across the country in recent weeks, using scathing humor and a bemused look to ridicule Republicans.
Like Biden, he also argued that the US system of government was at stake in next week’s election, telling a crowd in Arizona that “democracy as we know it” could perish if election deniers take the lead. power.
Obama and Biden last appeared together at the White House in September, when Obama’s official portrait was unveiled in the East Room of the White House. The event had been postponed while Trump was in office, in part because neither the Obamas nor the Trumps were interested in showing friendship.
As he campaigns for his endorsed nominees this fall, Trump has made little attempt to conceal his broader intentions: To buttress his own likely presidential campaign, he hopes to bring him back to the White House.
“Be prepared, that’s all I’m saying,” Trump told a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday, adding that he “very, very likely will do it again.”
Trump’s top aides have discussed the third week of November as an ideal launch point for his 2024 presidential campaign if Republicans do well in the midterm elections, people familiar with the matter said.
For Biden, the decision may take a little longer. He brought up family discussions around the holidays when asked about his own timeline. Members of his political team have made early preparations for a campaign infrastructure, operating under the assumption that he will decide to run again.
His motivating factor, aides say: if Trump jumps into himself.
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