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Why Biden is campaigning in blue New Mexico days before the midterms

Greg Nash/iStock/Valerie Morris

President Biden is heading to New Mexico, a typically blue stronghold that is hosting a tight gubernatorial race but hasn’t been closely watched this midterm cycle.

Biden’s trip out west this week, just a few days before Election Day, also includes a stop in California — but notably bypasses Arizona and Nevada, where a pair of close Senate races could help determine control of the upper chamber. 

Strategists say that’s emblematic of Biden’s and Democrats’ midterm calculus of where he can be most useful. 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is in a competitive reelection bid against Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti, who is endorsed by former President Trump. A recent poll shows her holding a 3 percentage point lead over Ronchetti in a state that has voted for every Democratic presidential nominee since 1992, except for 2004.

The president was in Florida on Tuesday, the last red state on his itinerary before Election Day. After his trip out west, he’ll be in Pennsylvania, which he considers a second home, on Saturday, and blue Maryland on Monday.

Some strategists pointed to Biden seemingly avoiding states where he — and Democratic candidates — fear he’ll do more harm than good.

One strategist working on midterm campaigns described it as a “go hide and do no more damage” approach, noting that when Biden was in Oregon last month, neither Democratic candidate in competitive House districts joined him for events.

The strategist also pointed out that while there are a number of close races on the map, there aren’t any blue states with Republican senators on the ballot, taking away clear opportunities for Biden to go on offense. By comparison, while Trump lost the House in 2018, he was able to successfully campaign against Democratic senators in states he won in 2016 like Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota.

Ivan Zapien, a former Democratic National Committee official, said Biden was focused on winning as he decided where to go or not go this close to Election Day. 

“I think he’s listening to the campaigns. If they need them, he’ll be there. When they’re not asking him, he doesn’t have an ego. He just wants to win. So, essentially, he’s in the ‘put me in coach, I’m ready to play’ mode,” he said.

Biden himself has nodded at the reality that he may hurt some Democrats more than he helps in a polarized political climate. At an August event with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is up for reelection in a state the Cook Political Report rates as “solid Democratic,” Biden quipped that he told the senator “I’ll come campaign for him or against him, whichever will help the most.”

Deputy Biden chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon on Wednesday disputed the idea that Biden was unwanted by other Democrats.

Asked in an Axios interview what it’s like having to tell her boss a candidate doesn’t want him coming to their state to help campaign, she responded, “I have not had to say that, so I don’t really know.” 

“What he knows about engaging with people is you need to be out there and talking to people,” she added.

In New Mexico, Biden will rally with Democrats as well as give remarks on his student loan forgiveness plan, which highlights his effort to appeal to young voters. Young people typically have low voter turnout in midterm elections and a final plea to get them to vote could provide a boost for Democrats.

Michael Starr Hopkins, a Democratic strategist and adviser on Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s campaign, said Biden’s approach is to meet voters where they are.

“As we close out the 2022 cycle, Democrats would be wise to use a scalpel and not a sledgehammer in their efforts to turn out voters. Their strategy shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach, but rather meeting voters where they are and showing them that Democrats are the party that will protect their access to health care, social security, and their ability to build a better life for their family,” he said.

Lujan Grisham, who has been governor since 2019, is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and was in the running for a Cabinet position in the Biden administration. Biden’s focus on New Mexico also comes as recent polling has shown that Hispanic support for Democrats has dwindled since the last midterm elections in 2018.

“It’s a great sort of national message to have President Biden on the stage with a wildly popular female Hispanic governor who has a bright future,” Zapien said. “The national news is gonna pick up on it, so those images and that message is strong and will resonate nationally. I think it’s a smart move on their part.”

O’Malley Dillon on Wednesday morning also pushed back on questioning over why Biden hasn’t participated in large rallies in swing states close to Election Day.

“Pennsylvania’s a big swing state, and he’ll have a large rally on Saturday … the president believes we have to be everywhere and the administration is out there across the board,” she said, noting that first lady Jill Biden is set to visit Arizona this weekend. 

With Biden spending most of his time either in Pennsylvania — a state where he has deep roots — or more reliably blue states like New Mexico and New York, Democrats have turned to other surrogates in more contested battleground states.

Former President Obama was in Nevada to rally supporters for Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Gov. Steve Sisolak (D). Obama will also rally in Arizona this week for Sen. Mark Kelly (D) and gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs (D) before joining Biden this weekend in Pennsylvania.

“Democrats are smart to use surrogates like President Obama and President Biden in states where they best resonate,” said Hopkins. “For President Obama that’s in places where we need high turnout among African Americans and college educated voters. When it comes to President Biden, his life story and blue-collar roots resonate with moderates and disillusioned Republicans.”

Biden’s heading to typically blue Maryland the day before Election Day, which will be another gubernatorial-focused visit and, much like New Mexico, there’s a rising democratic star on the ticket. 

His attention on Lujan Grisham and Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore in the final days of this midterm cycle could point to Biden’s focus on the future of the Democratic Party, Zapien said.

“Ultimately, part of what you need to do is go attend to the rising stars of the party in an election, and governors are incredibly important to the future of the party,” he said.

Tags 2022 midterms Biden Mark Ronchetti Michelle Lujan Grisham midterms New Mexico Trump
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