(Bloomberg) — Joe Biden’s White House wants voters headed into midterm elections to think more about the threat he believes Republicans pose to democracy — and less about the complicated state of the economy.In recent speeches, the president has portrayed the GOP as still under the spell of his predecessor, Donald Trump, and his false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Last week Biden even described his opponents as “semi-fascist’’ and bent on curtailing Americans’ freedoms.
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The shift in tone will be amplified on Thursday when Biden delivers a primetime address from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Constitution. The setting represents both symbolism, as the birthplace of the Constitution, and a political calculation, as the biggest city in a key battleground state.
Similar to his election in 2020, Biden seeks to position himself as a calm, centrist alternative to the mercurial Trump, who’s back in the spotlight after the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last month that recovered highly classified documents. To defend slim majorities in the House and Senate, the White House is painting Trump-endorsed congressional candidates and supporters, as well as anti-abortion Republicans, as extremists.
“You need to vote to literally save democracy again,” Biden said at an Aug. 25 rally in Rockville, Maryland. “Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans have made their choice to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate and division, but we’ve chosen a different path — forward.”
A new Gallup poll from August showed an uptick in Biden’s approval rating to 44%, the highest level this year, following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The greatest increase in support came from political independents, who both parties need to woo ahead of the midterms. Yet Biden still receives the lowest marks on his handling of the economy. This is typically the key issue in any national election and gives the GOP a clear line of attack.
“The White House is trying to talk about anything but the economy, but every poll and public gauge of opinion shows inflation is still the top issue for voters,” said Emma Vaughn, the national press secretary for the Republican National Committee, pointing to higher gasoline and food prices since Biden took office.
Republicans want voters to keep the economy front-of-mind, particularly inflation running hotter than 8%. Economic risks hang over the Democrats’ prospects this year and in 2024, especially because the main policy tool to cool inflation — the Federal Reserve’s aggressive raising of interest rates — also threatens to tip the country into a recession.
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A White House official said Biden isn’t trying to avoid discussion of the economy and is proud of his record, particularly a strong jobs market and a series of legislative wins aimed at the middle class, including a measure intended to bring down the cost of prescription drugs and recently announced student loan relief.
“Democrats and the President are delivering on lowering costs,” said Danielle Melfi, executive director of Building Back Together, an outside political group that promotes the administration’s policies. “It’s real hard for Republicans to be able to look voters in the eye and say, ‘I have a plan to lower your costs and fight for your family,’ when they voted against the bill that does exactly that, and that’s the message that we will be driving home.”
A senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee, former top White House aide and former congressman Cedric Richmond, said the president will continue to draw attention to the number of GOP candidates perpetuating the false idea that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, a move Richmond called as “undemocratic as it comes.” That will be a dominant theme for Biden as he travels around the country before the midterms.
But, Richmond cautioned, it would be a mistake for Democrats to undersell their own record before the midterms.
“The biggest risk is not being aggressive enough or being forceful enough, not knocking on doors and telling people about our accomplishments,” he said. “We can’t assume people know what the president was able to do.”
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