https://www.newsweek.com/-By Daniel Bush
Then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in a virtual grassroots fundraiser at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, on August 12, 2020. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images
President Joe Biden has not held a single traditional political rally in the run-up to the 2022 midterms. He has only endorsed a handful of Democrats running for Congress, and rarely appears alongside them on the campaign trail, a concession to his low approval ratings and concerns in the party that his presence could hurt Democrats who find themselves locked in tough reelection fights.
Instead, Biden has focused his midterm efforts on raising money to help the party retain control of the House and Senate. The president uses the fundraising events to tout his administration’s achievements and draw a contrast between Democrats and the Trump wing of the Republican Party.
“[Talking about] how bad the alternatives are is a very powerful fundraising tool,” said Aubrey Montgomery, a Democratic fundraiser. “The stakes are high and donors are definitely feeling it.”
Democratic fundraisers and donors pointed to the Democratic National Committee’s fundraising haul as proof Biden’s midterm strategy was paying off. The DNC raised $244 million through the end of August, a record for the party in a midterm election cycle.
Mark Chorazak, a top Biden donor in 2020, said Biden was smart to highlight his record in office when urging donors to ante up.
“He’s had a tremendous amount of legislative accomplishments,” Chorazak said. “That’s really hard to do, particularly with such a divided Senate.”
Biden has headlined fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee this year in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston, among other cities, helping to bring in more than $20 million for the national party at high-dollar events with wealthy donors.
The president has drawn praise for his fundraising efforts from party insiders, though in private many concede he is less effective than his Democratic predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
“Biden is not Obama,” said one Democratic source, who asked not to be named. “Obama is still probably a bigger fundraising draw then the current sitting president.”
When it comes to fundraising, Biden has faced challenges that Obama and other past presidents never encountered.
The president is back to holding in-person fundraising events after avoiding them as a candidate since the start of the pandemic in 2020. But COVID remains a big part of the planning process for presidential appearances. His aides remain vigilant about minimizing his chances of being infected. Biden, who has tested positive for COVID-19 twice, is set to receive his latest booster shot Tuesday.
On the other hand, Biden has become adept at popping into virtual fundraising events, a skill he developed after he stopped holding in-person campaign events for several months in 2020.
“We’re in a new world of digital fundraising,” said Kristin Oblander, a longtime Democratic fundraiser and former member of the DNC’s national finance committee, and Biden “has been able to adapt quickly.”
Biden has continued to attend some virtual fundraisers. In addition to his in-person work with the DNC, he has also helped the DNC’s grassroots fundraising efforts, raised money for the Democratic Governors Association and attended some events for individual candidates.
Last Thursday, for example, Biden appeared at a fundraising reception for Pennyslvannia’s Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman. The appearance came after Biden made a stop earlier in the day in Pittsburgh to promote the infrastructure law, one of his main achievements in office.
Biden worked the rope line with gusto at the evening reception for Fetterman, clearly relishing the chance to connect with supporters, according to a person who attended the event.
“It looked like he was having a good time,” the person said of Biden. “Everyone wanted to have a moment with him.”
Biden may be enjoying the fundraising events, but they’ve drawn some blowback. As he toured Pennsylvania, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel criticized him in a statement that appeared aimed at damaging Fetterman as well by linking him to the president.
“Joe Biden and John Fetterman embody everything wrong with today’s Democrat Party — radical, careless and out-of-touch,” McDaniel said. Pennsylvania “is experiencing sky-high inflation and out-of-control crime because of far-left career politicians like Biden and Fetterman.”
That line of attack has caused many Democrats to shy away from appearing with Biden as they make their closing arguments to voters ahead of the November election. Still, in recent days the president has faced a growing chorus of criticism for not hitting the campaign trail more.
Biden addressed the issue during his stop in Pittsburgh, saying that numerous Democrats have asked him to come to their states or districts.
“I’ve got about 16, 18 requests around the country,” Biden said, adding that he planned to travel more in the final days before the election. Biden mentioned a possible trip to Georgia, another battleground state with a closely watched Senate race that could help determine control of the upper chamber of Congress.
But after the Fetterman event and a brief stop back in Washington, D.C., Biden spent the past weekend off the campaign trail in his home state of Delaware. The president frequently spends the weekend there, but the move drew more attention to Biden’s midterm strategy in the waning days of the election cycle.
Biden isn’t the only recent president to adopt a conservative approach to the midterms. In 2006, former President George W. Bush‘s approval ratings were down amid public frustration with the Iraq War and his administration’s delayed response to Hurricane Katrina. Following the advice of his political aides, Bush stayed away from many competitive House districts to give Republican candidates the space to distance themselves from an unpopular president.
Four years later former President Barack Obama followed suit, as many Democrats shied away from campaigning alongside him in a midterm election year dominated by the debate over the Affordable Care Act.
In both cases, the better-safe-than-sorry strategy didn’t work.
Democrats regained control of the House and Senate in 2006, leaving Bush to serve out the remainder of his term as a lame-duck president. Republicans won 63 House seats and control of the lower chamber in 2010. Obama famously called it a “shellacking” for the Democratic Party.
Trump departed from tradition in 2018. He avoided traveling to politically moderate parts of the country where he was less popular. But he campaigned aggressively in safe Republican states and House districts. He also made more than 30 endorsements in the general election, ensuring that he stayed front and center in the midterms even though he wasn’t on the ballot.
Trump did not do his party any favors, however. Democrats won back the House, and used their majority status to launch two impeachment investigations.
Now Biden is hoping to avoid the same fate, while sticking to his relatively light travel schedule in the final weeks of the election. Biden often warns donors at fundraising events of the consequences if far-right Republicans who back Trump take control of Congress. Biden reiterated the message in a brief speech Monday at DNC headquarters in Washington. Chorazak, the Biden donor, said the message is resonating.
The president’s claim that democracy is under attack “sounds like a cliche, but it’s true,” he said. “We’re at a crossroads.”