Well, the new year has brought some new fight to the White House (about time!) as they try to get something past the finish line on their agenda before all eyes turn to the midterms. We talk through what this new strategy means for the Biden agenda and then turn to the latest maneuvers in the midterms.
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MURPHY: Well, President Biden has finally broken out the speed bag and started punching. Looks like the changeup to the more aggressive style that we’ve talked about in past newsletters is now afoot. Not once, but twice in two recent speeches President Biden has taken after the Republicans, trying to draw a big political contrast now that the election year has begun. In the second speech Joe even dropped a Malarky bomb… so, now it’s personal! As a matter of tactics, I applaud the switch up. Fighting Biden is the best Biden and focusing Democratic wrath upon the GOP is a far better plan than the circular center left vs. loony left firing squad the D’s gave us last year. The bottom line is the White House has finally figured out that this is an election year, so messaging is more important than the minutiae of passing tricky legislation (especially when you never had enough votes to a jumbo bill passed in the first place). Setting up a new fight based on middle class economics is also a smart move. Back to kitchen table issues, which is where elections are won or lost. Biden still has the big, bad inflation wolf to fight off, but the latest 3.9% unemployment numbers are a useful cudgel he can now put to work. Now Gibbsie, this morning, I and millions more readers of the New York Times suffered through your commentary on all this in a big Michael Shear story in the New York Times. Care to add more?
GIBBS: Well, Murphy, I applaud the change from the White House, too. It’s 2022 now and that means it’s an election year. Presidents generally spend the first year thinking about legislation and beginning thoughts of their legacy. It’s a time for the hard work of governing (and more lies ahead for Biden given no Build Back Better yet). But back in the Obama White House, when both the legislative and political days were tough, then-Vice President Biden would often tell Obama about something his father told him: “don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” And Biden desperately needs to start forcing in voters’ minds that choice between his vision and the GOP vision. First midterm elections tend to be referendums on the incumbent (comparisons to the Almighty) rather than choice elections (comparisons to the alternative). It won’t be easy to make this a choice election, but Biden has to try to do that and do it consistently. They also have to see improvements in the COVID situation and with inflation. But, now is the time to make this debate bigger than just the actions of the President. Let’s see if this is a full turn in strategy or just a momentary tactical thing. And this will be a trickier dance because Biden campaigned on being able to get Republicans to work with him and he’s still got to get all the Democrats on his side to get his last legislative piece through Congress.
MURPHY: The key is they badly overreached on the BBB bill in the first place. The key to that problem is pretty simple; stop overreaching. Cut it down, make a deal with the Emperor of West Virginia and declare victory. Then pivot to the politics of fighting the do-nothing Republicans. That’s the path to better Biden numbers that the D’s must crawl their way back to avoid a midterm GOP win, particularly in the Senate.
MURPHY: We're getting final clarity on the all-important 2022 Senate races. Chuck Morse, the state Senate Leader in New Hampshire is now running for Senate (along with a few third tier Ham n’ Eggers in the GOP primary). Democrats had been worried that popular-ish Gov. John Sununu would run against vulnerable Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen in what could have been the biggest Senate race of the year. But Sununu bowed out and Team Hassan breathed a large sigh of relief. Now Morse is running and while no Gov. Sununu, he could be a credible treat as the nominee. He’s been around NH politics and he has a smart campaign team with NH-based consultants Dave and Lauren Carney. Two other races now have clarity as well. In Wisconsin, reliable GOP dingbat Sen. Ron Johnson has announced he is running for a third term, breaking his heartfelt promise in earlier campaigns to stick to a two-term limit in heathen Washington D.C. In a shocker, Johnson has discovered that the fight against World Socialism requires him to stay in the Senate indefinitely as opposed to moving back to Rhinelander. It’ll be a tight race; Wisconsin is a swing state, but Johnson has survived tough challenges before. There is a bit of a primary on the D side. This one will be close. Finally, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota has announced that he too is running for re-election. He’ll win easily. There was speculation that Thune – a close ally of GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell – might retire this year; he’s taken a few kitten swipes at Trump and is no favorite of the Orange Menace. But is popular in the Republican caucuses and is frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Mitch. If you grade the Senate Republican on a very generous curve, which the current insanity sadly demands, Thune is one of the better Members.
GIBBS: In the days of constant campaigning, it’s a little surprising to see folks wait this long. Obviously Thune had a life decision to make about running again because he’s a shoo-in for reelection (even if Trump wishes he could impact the race). The Johnson race has been engaged on the Democratic side for a while now. Usually, challengers would prefer to not run against an incumbent, but in this case, Dems are happy Johnson wants another term. Remember, folks, we’ve got a 50-50 Senate with races in all of the most hotly contested states from 2020. What’s also struck me is the already eye-popping fundraising numbers being announced. Senator Mark Kelly in Arizona raised $9 million in the last three months of 2021 and has $18.5 million in the bank! I mean wow! By the time November rolls around, these numbers will be astounding. And it’s not just federal races. In the GOP race for Governor in Georgia, incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp starts the year with $12 million in the bank and with that primary he’s in, it will likely take all of that and a lot more! Good if you own a TV station, less good if you like to watch TV!
Our pal Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report (and known Banjo whiz) has a smart piece out on how Congressional redistricting is turning out a bit better than pessimistic Democrats first presumed. It’s no picnic, but it sure looks better for the D’s than many thought. Here’s the piece. Now, Dems just have to stop having retirements on the House side.
We’ll see you on Friday!
Murphy and Gibbs