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Biden campaigns in Pennsylvania, ground zero for midterms

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US President Joe Biden will visit both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia./AFP
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Oct 20, 2022 - 07:18 AM

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden will campaign Thursday alongside Senate candidate John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, ground zero in the Democrats’ struggle to avoid a wipeout in the midterms — and two years of political trench warfare for the White House.

Biden will visit both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, touting his administration’s signature infrastructure spending package.

Fetterman, whose love of hoodies and cargo shorts makes him one of the most unusual-looking figures on the campaign trail, was once a runaway favorite in the battle against Republican candidate Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor.

But the race has tightened, reflecting sinking Democratic hopes of maintaining the party’s already fragile control of Congress. The latest average of polls shows Fetterman’s nearly 11-point lead in mid-September whittled down to about five points.

Analysts say Pennsylvania is among a handful of races Democrats must win to keep the Senate after November 8, while the tussle for the House is even tougher.

Biden’s attempts to shift momentum have so far had limited effect. He is also unpopular, with an average of 42.3 percent in approval ratings, so his campaign appearances may not help.

The Thursday trip follows speeches in Washington where Biden vowed to protect abortion access and called for lower energy prices.

But three weeks from voting day, Americans appear to be veering toward the Republican message.

That raises the likelihood of Republicans taking control of at least the House and quite possibly the Senate.

Even just the House would give the increasingly far-right Republican party the ability to shut down Biden’s agenda and — as prominent figures are already threatening — attempt impeachment.

Numbers don’t add up 

A New York Times/Siena poll this week showed that, of likely voters, 26 percent named worries over the economy as the top issue while 18 percent listed inflation, which is at its highest rate in four decades.

That is not something Biden can fix quickly. This week also saw Bloomberg’s latest probability model giving a 100 percent chance of a recession in the next 12 months.

Even on issues where Biden feels he has a winning hand, there are limits.

During his impassioned speech on abortion, the president tapped into widespread anger over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling that enshrined national abortion rights.

Predicting a revolt by women voters at the ballot box, Biden said Republicans “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

But the Siena poll does not bear that out: just five percent of likely voters named abortion as their top issue.

Parties controlling the White House nearly always suffer a loss of seats in Congress during midterms, so a heavy Democratic loss would be no surprise.

Analysts with Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball election newsletter at the University of Virginia said that after giddy hopes of somehow defying gravity, the Democrats seem to be coming back to earth.

“The usual midterm headwinds remain for Democrats. It’s just tough for a party to thrive with an unpopular president and with the public having significant concerns about issues, like the economy and inflation,” they said Wednesday.

“This is why the House remains very likely to flip to the Republicans and why, despite the aforementioned challenges, Republican chances to win the Senate remain no worse than a coin flip.”

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