No wonder Joe Biden had a big smile on his face as he walked back and forth across the stage at Henry Meier Festival Park in Milwaukee on Monday, mic in hand, as he embarked on a two-month sprint to the midterms. that Democrats now hope will defy history.
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A perfect storm of developments over the summer has prophesied strategists in both parties that Republicans would easily take the House and probably the Senate in an election that left Biden weakened.
Instead, as the campaign enters its final chapter, Democrats have realistic hopes of averting the major midterm elections that typically befall the party in power. That outcome would bolster Biden’s position and raise questions about former President Donald Trump’s political acumen.
At stake is not just Congressional control, but the contours of the presidential election of 2024 and beyond.
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Trump put himself at the center of the campaign on Saturday night — turning his fire on Biden — with the first of what is expected to be a busy season of meetings for the former president.
“He is an enemy of the state, you want to know the truth,” Trump said of his successor in a speech in the battlefield state of Pennsylvania, where Biden delivered a speech on Thursday depicting Trump and the “MAGA Republicans” who support him as threats to democracy. Trump called those comments “the most brutal, hateful and divisive speech ever by a US president.”
On Trump’s side in Wilkes-Barre were two candidates he has defended, Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and governor candidate Doug Mastriano. In polls across the state over the past month, Oz has steadily trailed Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman in what has become Democrats’ best hopes of securing a Republican-occupied Senate seat. Mastriano, a state senator and a key supporter of Trump’s efforts to undo the results of the 2020 election, has followed Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee.
But in a speech at the Mohegan Sun Arena that lasted nearly two hours, the former president focused more on his past grievances than on the candidates’ selling points. He denounced the FBI’s search of his home in Mar-a-Lago for sensitive government documents as “a mockery of justice” and stated: “The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters controlled by radical left thugs, lawyers and the media.”
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Another speaker at the rally sparked particular controversy. Activist Cynthia Hughes offered a full defense of her cousin, Tim Hale-Cusanelli, and others who took part in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Hale-Cusanelli rose to fame by photographing himself dressed as Adolf Hitler and, according to law enforcement, once remarking about the Holocaust that Hitler “should have finished the job.”
He was convicted by a jury in May of obstruction of official proceedings and other charges. The sentencing is set for this month.
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Republican strategists wanted the midterm campaign to focus on high inflation and what they see as Biden’s weak leadership. Appreciation for the president’s job is still bleak, although it has risen to an average of about 42%. But Trump has complicated those plans by using his megaphone to complain instead about his false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
His endorsement of the Republican primary candidates who supported his argument that the election was “stolen” helped nominate Senate candidates now struggling with general elections, not just in Pennsylvania, but Georgia, Arizona and perhaps Ohio. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell drily described that as a matter of “candidate quality.”
With the Senate now split 50-50, Republicans need a net pick-up of a single seat to regain control. Since World War II, the ruling party has lost Senate seats in 13 by-elections and in five.
Biden addresses Labor Day rally
At his meeting in Wisconsin, another state on the battlefield, Biden did not mention Trump’s name, but he did echo the theme from his official speech last week that “the soul of America” was at stake in midterm exams. “I believe we are at a turning point in American history,” he said. “Are we going to build a future, or are we going to obsess over the past?”
Joining Biden at Milwaukee Laborfest was Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who ran for a second term against Republican Tim Michels. But the state Democratic Senate nominee, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, who is challenging Republican Senator Ron Johnson, did not appear with Biden.
Later, the president would fly to Pittsburgh to address Local 2227 of the United Steelworkers of America in the union hall.
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To contain losses in November, Democrats will have to defy the past.
In the 19 midterm elections since World War II, the White House party has lost 17 of these in the House of Representatives, from a low of four seats in 1962, when John F. Kennedy was president, to a high of 63. seats in 2010, when Barack Obama was president.
The only two exceptions were in 2002, when George W. Bush was president and Republicans won eight seats in an election determined by the aftermath of the September 11 attacks a year earlier. And in 1998, when Bill Clinton was president and the Democrats won five seats, this was generally seen as a rebuke to Republican efforts to impeach him after the Monica Lewinsky affair.
That’s a model Democrats hope to emulate this fall, portraying their candidates as focused on wallet issues rather than a political debate over the 2020 presidential election. In his Milwaukee address, Biden praised legislation passed by the United States during his administration. Democrats had been hired to protect workers’ pensions, lower prescription prices for seniors and replace lead pipes to ensure clean water.
With Democrats’ margin of 221-214 in the House, Republicans must flip a net of just four seats to gain control. Independent analysts calculate that the GOP probably still will, but they say the outcome is no longer guaranteed. Republicans are no longer expected to make the big gains that would make a statement and strengthen their hand.
When asked whether they would vote for the Democratic or Republican congressional candidate if the election were today, voters in public polls over the past month, on average by RealClearPolitics.com, have been split: 44.6% for the Democrat, 44.5 % for the Republican.
“Three months ago, it looked like a Category 5 hurricane was headed for President Biden and the House Democrats,” David Wasserman of the unbiased Cook Political Report said last week. “Not only has today it softened to a tropical depression, but the GOP primaries have thrown enough sandbags at Democrats to give them a plausible, if still unlikely, scenario to stave off a Republican majority.”
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The main factor boosting Democratic prospects, he said, was the Supreme Court decision in June quashing Roe v. Wade. Since then, about a dozen states have banned or severely restricted access to abortion services. Significant restrictions in another 10 states have been blocked or partially blocked due to judicial challenges.
The loss of a constitutional right to abortion, which had been in effect for half a century, has energized the Democratic grassroots and pushed a disproportionate number of women to register to vote. It has helped Democrats do better than expected in a series of special elections in recent weeks.
That said, the most experienced political hands offer a final warning: there are still 64 days to go.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden, Trump kicks off a two-month sprint into an unexpected midterm campaign