Biden’s mixed record forces some Dems into a weird balancing act – WIZM 92.3FM 1410AM
CINCINNATI (AP) — Democratic House candidate Greg Landsman can point to how his party’s control of Congress and the White House has benefited his city.
The bipartisan infrastructure deal will mean improvements to the busy highway bridge connecting Cincinnati to its airport and northern Kentucky while strengthening a vital overpass to the west. COVID-19 relief funding meant training more new police academy recruits. A sprawling spending program has capped insulin prices.
But Landsman won’t say whether President Joe Biden, who signed the measures, will help or hurt his campaign to unseat longtime Republican Rep. Steve Chabot. He doesn’t think the president will visit the swing district of southwestern Ohio before November’s midterm elections and insists that, in thousands of conversations during the campaign, Biden “doesn’t just doesn’t happen.”
Elected officials and top candidates often distance themselves from their party’s unpopular president. Some Republicans shunned Donald Trump ahead of the 2018 midterm elections when Democrats flipped the House, just as many Democrats shunned Barack Obama as the 2010 red wave loomed. George W. Bush and Bill Clinton suffered the same fate in the midterm elections.
But this cycle presents conflicting political incentives that have forced some frontline Democrats into tricky balancing acts. Although they have been improving lately, Biden’s approval ratings remain low and inflation is still at record highs. Still, unemployment is down, wages are up, and the White House has won key congressional victories cheered by many Democrats in close races.
The predicament underscores the lack of a national Democratic playbook on how to run in relation to Biden ahead of the midterms.
“These issues become, especially in places like Cincinnati, Greater Cincinnati, very local very quickly,” said Landsman, a city council member whose reluctance to mention Biden is a change from his appearance with the president at Cincinnati in May.
Two hundred miles north of Toledo, Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in House history, was more blunt, producing an ad saying she ‘doesn’t work for Joe Biden’ a few weeks only after greeting the president at the Cleveland airport in July.
Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, running for the open seat in the Ohio Senate, appeared with the president at the recent grand opening of an Intel computer chip factory outside Columbus. But then he suggested the possibility of Biden seeking re-election in 2024 that both parties need “new leadership” and “it’s time for generational change.”
When Biden visited Milwaukee on Labor Day, Democratic Gov. Tom Evers, who is up for re-election, appeared with him, but Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, competing with Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, did not. In Maine, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden posted an ad saying he opposed “billions of dollars from President Biden’s agenda because I knew it would make inflation worse.” Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly gives Biden’s performance “mixed reviews”.
Landsman says he appeared with the president because he supported White House-backed microchip legislation that helped make Intel’s new facility a reality. Kaptur says she appeared with Biden because he was announcing $1 billion for Great Lakes improvements and got a first-hand look at the town of Lorain, which has been devastated by the shutdown of steel mills.
“There are other things I disagree with the president on. But that one – drawing attention to Lorain, Ohio, which has endured such beatings in international markets, and people are always so positive and so constructive,” she said, “it was a great moment.
Phil Heimlich, a former Cincinnati City Councilman and Republican county commissioner who opposes Trump and endorsed Landsman, said Democrats’ struggles with Biden are real but pale in comparison to GOP candidates battling a party national increasingly indebted to his predecessor.
“I think the national thing always plays a role,” Heimlich said, “but it goes both ways.”
When Trump recently held a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Chabot did not attend. Kaptur’s opponent, JR Majewski, did. But they aren’t letting their opponents escape Biden’s political shadow.
“I think people know Pelosi and Biden. Some people are supportive. But I don’t think it’s the majority,” said Chabot, who criticized Landsman for briefly working in Nancy Pelosi’s Washington office in 1999, before she was Speaker of the House. He also tagged tweets about the #Bidenflation price hike.
Majewski said in his first TV commercial that “Biden and Kaptur are spending more and more as inflation increases more and more.”
Chabot was first elected to Congress in 1994 and won several hotly contested re-election races. But new congressional maps of Ohio mean its territory encompasses more of the Democrat-friendly Cincinnati.
A recent Landsman campaign event included his freeing a 5-year-old wire-haired dachshund named Jerome in a sausage dog race as Oktoberfest celebrations took over the city’s downtown. Chabot, the same weekend, greeted potential voters at a small street festival sponsored by the Catholic Church in the nearby town of Reading, where he was born.
“I know a lot of people who aren’t Democrats and they’ll definitely vote,” Jean Huneck, 67, a small mechanical engineering business owner, said of the ostensibly bluer new neighborhood. Huneck is a registered Democrat but supports Chabot and said the GOP needs big wins in November to counter Biden.
“I feel like our livelihoods depend on it,” she said.
Kaptur has held his seat since 1983 but faces circumstances opposite to those of Chabot. The redistricting swapped parts of his district’s largely blue Cleveland suburbs for a conservative eastern strip of the state that runs along Lake Erie and reaches the Indiana border.
Part of the new territory is dotted with cornfields and shops selling bait and tackle. An occasional yard sign reads “Trump 2024 or before,” a reference to the former president’s false suggestions that he could be reinstated to power.
Majewski is endorsed by Trump, and Kaptur called him a former follower of QAnon conspiracy theories who broke through police barricades during last year’s deadly uprising at the US Capitol. Kaptur declares in a television commercial that his opponent is “too dangerous to serve in Congress”.
The Republican National Campaign Committee, the party’s House campaign arm, promoted a photo of Biden kissing Kaptur’s hand upon arriving in Cleveland and a video of her saying that after a year in office, the “president’s report card is outstanding” juxtaposed with headlines about inflation and the president’s declining approval ratings.
Following an Associated Press report that Majewski had misrepresented his military career, the NRCC canceled television ads he had booked in support of his campaign.
Brendan McHugh, a 31-year-old who works in investment real estate in Toledo, said linking Biden and Kaptur isn’t a bad thing because “the Democrats have had some victories lately.”
“I’m pleased with the progress the Biden administration has made,” McHugh said, calling it a “net positive” for Kaptur.
Michael Jones, a 56-year-old lawyer who lives in the same Old Orchard neighborhood near the University of Toledo, said he was a Kaptur supporter and controlling things like inflation was largely out of Biden’s hands. But he added: “There’s a lot of tough stuff going on right now.”
“People can look at who’s on top right now,” Jones said. “And that can impact how an undecided person might vote.”