This article is part of The D.C. Brief, TIME’s politics newsletter. Sign up here to get stories like this sent to your inbox.
REHOBOTH BEACH, Del.—Vice President Kamala Harris spent her Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis, rushing to a roundtable on reproductive rights on the campus of Metropolitan State University with little more than two weeks before voters there—and everywhere, really—will tell us just how potent the question of abortion really is in the post-Roe world.
At almost the exact moment that her motorcade arrived back at Air Force Two, President Joe Biden’s entourage rolled down Laurel Street here on the Delaware shore. While Harris recorded a podcast and appeared at a fundraiser for Minnesota candidates, Biden stayed largely out of sight at his vacation home. He checked in with advisers, and celebrated Mass just a block from the waves on the Rehoboth boardwalk. As a series of answers he taped last on Tuesday went live on the social media channels of news website NowThis, he returned through stormy skies to Washington late Sunday night, a short 22-minute hop on the smaller-scale Air Force One.
The split-screen moment is about as clear an illustration about how the White House sees the best use of the commander-in-chief’s time with an election imminent. The weekend marked the 56th time Biden has visited his home state of Delaware since taking office 21 months ago, and he’s due back on Thursday. He’s been here a full quarter of his time in power, outpacing even former President Donald Trump’s tendencies to spend his relative downtime away from the White House and at sites that were part of his businesses. And, in this environment and with Biden’s polling worse than all of his predecessors since Harry Truman, it might be where Biden does the least harm to fellow Democrats.
Welcome to 2022, when a compromise candidate from 2020 is now seen as an albatross almost everywhere except his home states of Delaware and Pennsylvania—and even there, he’s still underwater. And, to be fair, he’s more unpopular than popular in a stinging 44 states.
The White House publicly insists Biden will be engaged in the final sprint, citing an upcoming trip to Florida and this week’s and last’s drop-ins to Pennsylvania. They also point to a recent western swing that included stops in Colorado, Oregon, and California as proof that the President is working to promote Democrats’ agenda and to boost enthusiasm with the base.
“The president takes this very seriously,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week when reporters pressed her for an explanation for Biden’s absence from the trail.
But there is also this reality: a lot of the candidates in the tightest races don’t much want Biden in their backyards—at least not the one named Joe. First Lady Jill Biden? She’s plenty welcome, and is a much-requested visitor. But the president is seen as a drag, and some—such as Ohio’s Tim Ryan running for the open Senate seat there—have done everything they can to stiff-arm their party’s leader. Ryan openly says Biden should not play in Ohio politics and maybe shouldn’t run in 2024; he then announced plans for Dave Matthews to perform a show today in Columbus.
Historically, the party that holds the White House loses seats in its first at-bat with voters after a new President takes office. Biden favorability is lower than every single post-World War II President, which should mean he is a drag on Democrats writ large. Still, his team isn’t buying that theory, citing 10 million jobs created on his watch, historically low unemployment rates, and the price at the pump declining after a painful summer. They profess Bidenism can work everywhere, if only Democrats would give it a chance.
Then why isn’t Biden doing more to evangelize this idea? Well, he is following the lead set in 2010 by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and selectively engaging. And it’s merely an added bonus that Biden is ditching Washington at every chance he can find.
Still, it’s frustrating to many Democrats who are watching their party leader seem like a drag on candidates. It’s partly why (along with his age) that the speculation about his 2024 decision simply will not end. And, while no president is ever truly off the clock, the pictures of him motorcading to Dover Air Force Base on Sunday night—while so many of his former colleagues are fighting for political survival—leave some Democrats smarting. And on Friday, Biden will once again not be bombarding the likes of Georgia, Arizona, or Nevada. He’ll be back in his backyard, helping rally the faithful at the Pennsylvania Democratic Party’s headquarters in Philadelphia. At that point, Election Day will be less than two weeks away.
Make sense of what matters in Washington. Sign up for the D.C. Brief newsletter.
- The Inside Story of Princeton's Cinderella Run at March Madness
- The Case for Betting on Succession's Tom Wambsgans
- For Both Donald Trump and Alvin Bragg, the Central Park Jogger Case Was a Turning Point
- If Donald Trump Is Indicted, Here's What Would Happen Next in the Process
- Alison Roman Won't Sugarcoat It
- Why Not All Observant Muslims Fast During Ramadan
- It's Time to Say a Loving Goodbye to John Wick
- Who Should Be on the 2023 TIME100? Vote Now
- Column: Ozempic Exposed the Cracks in the Body Positivity Movement