Three presidents — one sitting and two former — squared off in Pennsylvania on Saturday in a final midterm push that underscored the seniority of one of the most closely watched Senate races.
For President Joe Biden, who made a rare appearance with former President Barack Obama in Philadelphia to bolster Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Pennsylvania was a political stress test in his home state, where he has traveled 20 times since taking office. .
For former President Donald Trump, who rallied outside Pittsburgh in Latrobe on Saturday night, the victory of his own running mate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, could prove he is durable in the commonwealth he is seeking in 2020. lost by a narrow margin.
The implications extend well beyond next week’s election. As Trump prepares to announce a third run for the presidency, possibly in the coming weeks, Biden aides are taking the first steps toward a re-election campaign. In a segment that lasted several hours on Saturday, the potential 2020 was revealed. rebound dynamics.
This moment marks a historical anomaly. Former presidents tend to make only moderate forays into day-to-day politics, usually avoiding direct criticism of the men in the positions they once held. It has only been since 1892, when Grover Cleveland lost a one-term presidency, to win the White House again.
The convergence of Pennsylvania’s presidents, each warning of dire consequences if the opposing party prevails, reflected the changed norms that Trump took to office nearly six years ago, quickly leveling false accusations against Obama of espionage and general malfeasance.
In North Philadelphia, Biden told a packed crowd at Temple University that Fetterman would protect Social Security and Medicare and look after veterans.
“My goal when I ran for president was to build the economy from the bottom up and from the middle. It’s a major shift from the recession economy of Oz and the mega MAGA Republicans,” Biden said, referring to Fetterman’s GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz.
As the crowd booed, the president continued: “Absolutely not. This is not your father’s Republican Party. This is a different breed of cat. I really mean it. See, they’re all about making the rich richer. And the rich stay rich. The middle class is stagnating. The poor are made poorer by their policies.
Obama offered a rebuttal to the Democratic defeats.
“I can tell you from experience that midterms are very important,” Obama said, referring to the 2010 election. elections that saw the VVP regain power in the House of Representatives during his first administration.
“When I was president, I got kicked in the midterms. I was elected during the financial crisis and we did the right things to get the economy back on track, but it was slow and people were frustrated, as they are now.
Biden, who spent much of his first year in office trying to avoid Trump’s name, is no longer so cautious. He called out “Trump and all his briefs” at a rally in California this week and called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “Trump incarnate” at a fundraiser outside Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. At his rallies, Mr. Trump plays a video of strays to cast his successor as a snob-prone senior citizen, though he hasn’t sought out Obama as often.
Meanwhile, Obama has issued his harshest criticism of the Trump-backed candidates, many of whom have ruled out a 2020 run. election results and follows the example of the 45th president.
“It doesn’t just happen because something was on TV. It turns out that being president or governor is about more than punch lines and good lighting,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former local news anchor, said last week in Arizona.
Pennsylvania’s Senate and gubernatorial contests are the only marquee midterms this year. Biden has gotten stuck more than once. In other high-profile races, candidates have kept their distance from a president with subpar approval ratings.
The same could not be said for Obama, who was in high demand among Democrats in a close race. In the final weeks of the campaign, Obama held raucous rallies in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada, all states that Biden has avoided for the past few months as the candidates try to halt the Republican movement.
It’s a 180-degree turn from midterm cycles during Obama’s presidency, when Biden swept more states, including conservative-leaning districts where the sitting president was seen as a draw for Democratic candidates.
Officials say Biden is hardly annoyed or even surprised that Obama is more attractive than him on the campaign trail this year. He discussed some of the race with his former boss and believes Obama’s message resonates with voters as much as it complements his own.
Still, their joint performance on Saturday only served to highlight their different styles and political abilities, a comparison that even some Democrats say ultimately favors Obama.
“I know you always ask me how we’re doing. I think we will win this time. I feel very good about our chances,” Biden told reporters in California on Friday.
The president has been bullish on Democrats’ chances next week, even as many Democrats grow increasingly worried about their party’s prospects. His campaign schedule, which has a staggering number of candidates in blue states in closer-than-expected races, is itself a signal of the Democrats’ vulnerability.
In the final days of the campaign, Biden traveled mostly to blue states that he won, but where Democrats are still running a closer race than expected. He made stops in New Mexico, California and Illinois before hitting Pennsylvania on Saturday before campaigning with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sunday. He will spend the eve of the election in Maryland.
People familiar with Biden’s thinking say he accepts that not every Democratic candidate will accept him as a surrogate as long as his approval ratings remain underwater. He told fellow Democrats that he respects their political intuitions when it comes to their own races.
But he has been frustrated by reports that he is a political albatross, according to people familiar with the conversations, who say his policies — properly explained — are very popular with voters.
Compared to Obama and Trump, Biden has held far fewer campaign rallies for his party this midterm cycle. Most of his engagements over the past month have been formal events, presented to crowds that sometimes number just a few dozen.
In the waning days of the campaign, his rallies began to attract more people. Six hundred people had to be turned away from Friday’s event in Southern California, according to the White House. And Biden addressed an overflow crowd in New Mexico that couldn’t fit inside the main venue when he held a rally with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“I know you don’t think so, but I think we have enough people. They are quite enthusiastic. You don’t write it that way, but they are there,” Biden said as he left California on Friday.
Still, his events didn’t generate the same kind of electricity as Obama’s. The former president has faced off against Trump and his cohorts running for office at a series of rallies across the country in recent weeks, using wry humor and panache to poke fun at Republicans.
Like Biden, he also argued that America’s system of government is at risk in next week’s election, telling a crowd in Arizona that “democracy as we know it” could die if election deniers take office.
Obama and Biden last appeared together at the White House in September, when Obama’s official portrait was unveiled in the East Room of the White House. The event was postponed while Trump was in office, in part because neither Obama nor Trump were interested in a show of friendship.
While campaigning for his endorsed candidates this fall, Trump has made little effort to hide his larger intentions: To bolster his likely presidential campaign, he hopes to return him to the White House.
“Get ready, that’s all I’m saying,” Trump told a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday, adding that he would “very, very likely do it again.”
Top Trump aides have discussed the third week of November as an ideal start to the 2024 presidential campaign if Republicans do well in the midterm elections, sources familiar with the matter said.
For Biden, the decision may take a little longer. When asked about his timeline, he pointed to family discussions during the holidays. Members of his political team were preparing the campaign infrastructure early, acting in anticipation that he would decide to run again.
His motivating factor, aides say: Is Trump jumping into himself.
This story has been updated with additional information.