ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — President Joe Biden kicked off a personal final-day campaign sprint on Thursday that mirrors Democrats’ top concerns ahead of next week’s midterm elections, calling on voters in New Mexico to defeat the “reckless and irresponsible” Republicans and Democrats to re-elect New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.
New Mexico is normally safe Democratic territory, but Lujan Grisham faces a determined challenge from his Republican opponent, former TV weatherman Mark Ronchetti.
At a rally headlined by the president, she warned that state Democrats were “a little behind” but assured supporters “we’re catching up fast.”
In fact, the headwinds Lujan Grisham is facing are indicative of the struggles Democrats faced in many parts of the country as Biden embarked on a multistate campaign largely focused on building support in the party’s usual strongholds.
“Remember this is not a referendum. This is a choice,” he said, pointing to the stakes next Tuesday.
Biden said Republicans would follow through on proposals to cut health and retirement benefits if they won control of Congress.
“They just say it,” he said. “They don’t even hide it.”
Biden’s itinerary in the final days of the campaign illustrates the limited political clout of a president who has been held at bay by some Democrats in tough races this cycle. It also suggests the president, whose approval ratings remain submerged, has concluded he can be more effective in using the final days before the near polls to build support for Democratic candidates in areas he has. easily won in 2020.
Biden’s three-day, four-state trip includes California, Illinois and Pennsylvania, where Biden has deep roots.
“Democrats are clearly on the defensive and that’s borne out as the campaign winds down,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “Their winning odds don’t seem realistic, so now look at what you can preserve.”
A president’s party typically faces significant losses in midterm elections. Since 1934, only Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934, Bill Clinton in 1998, and George W. Bush in 2002 have seen their parties gain midterm seats.
Some recent presidents have suffered big losses in their first midterm races. Republicans under Donald Trump lost 40 House seats but gained two Senate seats in 2018; Democrats under Barack Obama lost 63 House seats and six Senate seats in 2010, and Democrats under Clinton lost 52 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1994.
The decision to deploy Biden to areas where he won hands down in 2020 was made in part due to concerns about voter energy in races Democrats see as must-wins. Party officials are also concerned about some candidates who have seen their races narrow in the final days of the campaign.
Biden won New Mexico by nearly 11 percentage points in 2020, but Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is from the state, has warned this election will be close.
“Republicans are catching up with us,” she said. “And we can’t let that happen.”
Fundraising by Ronchetti’s campaign surged amid visits from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Ronchetti also received a social media endorsement from Trump despite his acknowledgment that Biden won in 2020.
Before speaking at the political rally, Biden visited Central New Mexico Community College to tout its student debt relief program, calling it a “game changer for so many people.”
Focusing on young voters whose support Democrats are aggressively seeking, Biden said, “Your generation will not be ignored. You will not be shunned. You will not be silenced.
Nearly 26 million people have applied for student loan forgiveness, up 4 million from two weeks ago. About 16 million applications are expected to be approved by the end of the week, but no debt can be written off until a legal battle over the program is resolved.
“Republican members of Congress and Republican governors are doing everything they can, including taking us to court, to deny aid, even to their own constituents,” Biden said.
Later Thursday, Biden joined Rep. Mike Levin for a voting event at a community college in Oceanside, Calif. Levin represents a district with a slight Democratic lean that crosses San Diego and Orange counties that Biden boosted to double digits in the 2020 presidential election. Republican candidate Brian Maryott lashed out at Levin in the about inflation, gas prices and rising crime.
Biden is due to spend part of Friday and Saturday in the Chicago area, where incumbent Rep. Sean Casten faces a tough challenge from Republican Keith Pekau as he tries to hold on to a suburban neighborhood that Biden won by double digits. percentage in 2020. The White House has yet to announce Biden’s plans for his stay in Chicago.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republican leaders, this week announced a $1.8 million ad buy to help Pekau, the mayor of the southern suburb of Orland Park. And Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Minority Leader, is due to campaign with Pekau in the district on Friday.
Casten’s campaign, in a fundraising email Wednesday, called the crushing of super PAC money a “last-ditch effort to buy that seat” and implored his supporters to send him contributions for the last straight line of the campaign.
The president will travel to Pennsylvania on Saturday to campaign with Obama for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro and Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania Democrats are trying to keep control of the governor’s office, which is vacated by Tom Wolf as he completes his second term. Fetterman is locked in a tight race with Republican Mehmet Oz, vying for the seat vacated by retired Republican Senator Pat Toomey.
Chris Megerian reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Michael R. Blood in San Juan Capistrano, California; and Sara Burnett in Chicago and Collin Binkley in Washington contributed.
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