Biden revives his blue-collar persona amid Democrats’ midterm fears
President Biden is reviving his blue-collar folksy persona to connect with rural voters and try to help congressional Democrats hold onto their narrow majorities in the November election.
That personality was on full display Thursday when the president visited North Carolina. He repeatedly referred to audience members as “people,” spoke about the struggles of growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and professed camaraderie with a student in the audience who has a post-graduation job at IBM.
“When you’re chairman of the board, remember me. When I call and say, “Hey, Malcolm, it’s Joe here,” I don’t want to hear you say, “Joe who?” “joked the president.
After decades of dwindling prospects in rural America, Democrats risk losing their House and Senate majorities by November’s midterms. Voters in those precincts feel the Democratic Party has let them down by not addressing pocket issues like inflation and rising prices, polls show.
These rural voters, who are overwhelmingly white-collar blue-collar workers, disagree with Democrats on cultural issues, which has overshadowed much of the White House messaging.
A poll released last week by The Associated Press/Ipsos found that 69% of rural voters disapprove of Mr. Biden’s job performance, compared to 26% who approve.
Seeking to reverse the declines, Mr Biden returned to his blue-collar Scranton roots, which he played during the 2020 campaign and previous races.
The question is: will voters buy it?
“He’s trying to go out in the country and be that ‘Scranton Joe,’ the one that got him the vice presidency and got him the presidency,” said Jimmy Keady, a Republican Party strategist. “He was sold as every man’s blue collar, and now that’s starting to fade. A year and a half into the presidency, he has become aloof, the laughing stock of foreign affairs and moved as he tries to rebuild energy.
“Bringing Biden back to what the left sees as all countries will allow him to remake his image,” he said.
To reach rural voters, Mr. Biden and his cabinet are fanning out across America to promote his policies. Mr. Biden visited Iowa on Tuesday and North Carolina on Thursday. He lost both states to President Trump in 2020.
As part of the outreach, the White House this week released a “Rural Playbook” detailing the resources available to local governments to access federal funding for infrastructure projects.
Zoe Nemerever, who studies rural voting at Texas Tech University, said it was too early to tell whether Mr Biden’s latest reinvention will bear fruit halfway through.
“If this is the start of a trend, blue-collar folk Joe Biden would go to other states, and that character would set the agenda,” she said. “It could also be an aberration where he spends a week visiting rural voters and the Democrats are back to their political agenda of rural neglect.”
The redesign follows a series of failed makeovers. During his run for president, Mr. Biden positioned himself as a seasoned centrist politician and statesman who would restore competence to the White House. When elected, he ran as a liberal, pushing a huge climate and spending agenda. He also presented himself as a foreign policy expert after years in the Senate.
Mr. Biden’s liberal bona fide is in tatters after the failure of his spending program and his voting rights legislation in Congress. The former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee oversaw a failed withdrawal from Afghanistan and failed to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.
The president was also caught off guard by rising inflation and the spread of two variants of coronavirus during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Biden’s image has changed over the past three years, but it doesn’t surprise me that they’re going back to basics,” Mr. Keady said. “This White House has faced crisis after crisis, and the midterm elections are going to be a bloodbath for Democrats. It’s a decision to bring him back to what made him good 10 years ago.
The shift to national issues is also an attempt to bolster Mr Biden’s political standing as his approval ratings are at the lowest of his presidency.
Joe Shepherd of the United Rural Democrats rejects the idea that Mr. Biden is getting a makeover. He said the president was using the bully pulpit of the presidency to connect with rural voters.
“He’s the president of all Americans, and by going to states like Iowa that didn’t vote for him, he’s always looking out for their interests,” he said.
Mr Shepherd said a focus on rural states might not reverse Mr Biden’s fortunes, but could help Democrats vote against it. On Tuesday, the president visited the district of Rep. Cynthia Axne, Iowa’s only Democratic federal representative. Ms Axne is locked in a tough mid-term battle for her seat.
During his visit, Mr. Biden said Ms. Axne could get things done while fighting for Iowa. On Thursday, Mr. Biden visited the district of Representative Kathy E. Manning of North Carolina, one of two Democratic representatives in the state, which is locked in a midterm fight.
Mr. Biden has also touted plans to suspend the summer ban on selling gasoline with higher ethanol blends to lower gasoline prices. Voters in Iowa, the largest ethanol producer in the United States, have long called for the summer ban to be lifted. In North Carolina, Mr. Biden spoke of easing supply chain issues.
“That Biden came to Cindy Axne’s district and said we’re doing all these things will help him in the long run,” Mr Shepherd said. “When she campaigns, she can say, ‘Look what I delivered.’ Even when a president is unpopular, people will still try to ride the wave of their legislative accomplishments.
Still, it’s unclear which legislative deliverables will save Democrats in the medium term. A Morning Consult poll released in January found that 65% of rural voters view the Democratic Party unfavorably, including 48% who do so “strongly.” Only 23% of rural voters said the Democratic Party cared more about their community than Republicans.
The same survey found that cultural issues drive rural voters away from the Democratic Party. He revealed that 75% of voters want lawmakers to support their police and 65% want them to secure the US-Mexico border. Meanwhile, around 20% want their lawmakers to support LGBTQ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Culture is one of the most salient divisive issues,” Ms. Nemerever said. “They don’t want their lawmakers talking about transgender athletes and wondering why they won’t talk about mitigating economic conflict when there’s a transgender athlete within 800 miles of where they live.”