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GOP Senate Candidates Bet Biden Will Hurt Democrats

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Published on Oct 12, 2022
GOP Senate Candidates Bet Biden Will Hurt Democrats

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This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox. Tim Ryan knew the challenge: How, exactly, could he differentiate himself from Joe Biden as he chases an open Senate seat in a state he has represented for 20 years as a Democrat in the House? After all, despite some conversions along the way—chiefly, on abortion and guns—Ryan is still a reliable Democratic vote for Biden’s agenda, and one that would probably stay that way if he upgrades offices after November’s elections. “Tim Ryan has voted with these policies 100% of the time,” Republican nominee J.D. Vance charged at Monday’s difficult-to-schedule debate. “Every single time he gets an opportunity to stand up for Ohioans, he chooses to bend the knee to his own party.” Ryan retorted: “I’m not here to toe the party line. I’m here to speak the truth.” It was but one moment in an otherwise engaging debate (that, frankly, probably won’t make much of a difference), but it illustrates how Democratic candidates are trying to stay aligned with a party that should match voters’ worries about abortion rights, fighting climate change and gun violence, and health care. Even Ryan, who hails from a state Trump won by 8 points two years ago, has remained competitive in ways that have caught Democrats in D.C. by surprise. Yet Biden’s poll numbers there and elsewhere remain persistently underwater, meaning more voters are telling pollsters that they think he’s doing a poor job than a good one. With inflation topping all voters’ minds in most polls, a 40-year stinker of an economic environment has done him no favors. Biden hasn’t been helpful force inside Democratic circles this fall, with candidates either keeping him at arm’s length or joining him reluctantly and sparingly. But Democrats have cracked this question before: make the race about the candidate on the ballot and make the alternative unpalatable. As a smart CNN analysis noted, Barack Obama was also underwater in crucial states in his two midterm check-ins with voters and Democratic nominees still emerged victorious. That was at top of mind recently when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted that “candidate quality” may keep his GOP colleagues from emerging winners in November. And then there’s this nugget: The Washington Post sagely spotted that Democratic candidates in the battleground states are polling ahead of Biden, leaving open the very real possibility that voters—at least for the moment—aren’t letting their choices be nationalized. Democrats heading into their final weeks of the campaign might be wise to keep their private affinity for Biden unspoken. It’s already been an issue at last week’s Senate debates in Arizona and North Carolina, and it’s guaranteed to come up on Friday when the candidates meet in Georgia for the first time since it was revealed GOP nominee Herschel Walker’s private life seems to be at odds with his campaign near-absolute opposition to abortion rights. Republicans may hope that contempt for Biden from the Republican base in that state may be sufficient to save Walker and cost incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. Republicans clearly feel comfortable treating this election as a referendum on Biden, while Democrats have been consistently treating the choices as being between predictability and Donald Trump-style extremism. So much so that the main takeaway from Friday’s debate in Raleigh was that both nominees seemed to prioritize keeping their parties’ nominal leaders far from the conversation; Rep. Ted Budd wanted little to do with Trump, while former state Chief Justice Cheri Beasley danced around Bidenism. And when given the chance, they turned their opponents into diminutive versions of the party elders. “Joe Biden is on the ballot on Nov. 8,” Budd said, “and he goes by the name of Cheri Beasley.” The closing arguments for this election cycle are starting to become more apparent—and national. Both parties are making a bet that people found now...


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