How Biden Is Reviving His Midterm Playbook for 2024

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In President Biden’s first major campaign ad of 2024, piano chords build as images of people voting flicker by. "I've made the preservation of American democracy the central issue of my presidency,” Biden says in the 60-second spot released online Thursday, part of a $500,000 ad blitz that will also hit local evening news broadcasts in key states. He goes on to say that there's “something dangerous happening in America" and that “there’s an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs in our democracy."

It’s similar to the message Biden hammered repeatedly ahead of the 2022 midterms, that former President Donald Trump and the election deniers he leads constitute a persistent threat to the future of American democracy. At the time, critics, including many from within his party, said the President was misreading the electorate, which they argued was more concerned about issues like the economy and crime. When an expected Republican “red wave” failed to materialize, Biden’s advisers believed their strategy had proven to be the correct one

Now Biden is doubling down on that approach, with his first campaign speech of 2024 set for Friday on Valley Forge outside Philadelphia, where George Washington brought together disparate colonial militias on the banks of the Schuylkill River nearly 250 years ago to fight the British monarchy. Campaign aides say the speech, on the eve of Saturday’s third anniversary of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, is intended to frame the next election as another turning point in the nation’s democracy.

It’s a strategy that is sure to raise another round of second-guessing, as Biden enters an election year with some of the worst polling for a first-term President since Jimmy Carter. And some would argue that with Trump contending with multiple criminal trials, including two related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the threat to democracy is already top of mind for many voters.

Focusing solely on Trump and democracy would be an “incomplete” re-election strategy for Biden, says Conor Lamb, a former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania. "I understand that the Presidential campaign wants to emphasize threats to democracy and the unique danger of Trump and I agree with it,” says Lamb. “But I would just caution that in this state there is a lot of anxiety about the economy, particularly but not exclusively driven by seniors and older people with fixed incomes whose checks just don't go as far this year as they did two years ago.”

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While they don’t intend to ignore pocketbook issues, aides say Biden will frame his campaign foremost as a fight to defend both democracy and individual freedoms. His campaign sees Republicans stripping away women’s reproductive rights, whitewashing history lessons in schools and refusing to stand up to extremists that encourage political violence. “In our view it's a very stark choice between the President and the Vice President, who want to preserve and protect people's freedoms, and the Republicans who want to take them away,” said a senior Biden campaign official. “They don’t want to just take them away, they already have. Donald Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices who were responsible for overturning Roe v. Wade."

Biden’s message is directed at an electorate that is increasingly concerned about American political differences turning deadly. A December poll by Navigator Research found that 83% of Americans are concerned about political violence, a concern shared across the political spectrum, including 86% of Democrats, 83% of independents, and 80% of Republicans. The same poll found that 2 in 3 Americans are concerned that the violent attempt to overthrow the 2020 election results on Jan. 6, 2021, could happen again. A Quinnipiac University poll released in November found that preserving democracy was the No. 2 issue for voters after the economy.

Read more: How the Threat of Political Violence Is Transforming America

In addition to warning about Trump’s threat to democracy and the Republican effort to strip away reproductive rights, Biden will also be touting his efforts to transform the economy to bolster the middle class, said a senior White House official. The President will be talking about “all of those things,” as he launches his reelection campaign in earnest this month. Major campaign talking points will include 14 million new jobs since Biden took office, the easing of inflation, an increase in consumer confidence, and signs that investments in U.S. infrastructure are starting to pay off.

But for now, the President wants voters to hear him talk most directly about the dangers of Trump and right-wing extremism as the election year kicks off. Following his Friday speech, Biden will make a campaign swing to South Carolina on Monday, where Black voter turnout won him the Democratic primary in 2020. In Charleston, Biden is set to visit the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church where a white supremacist shooter killed nine Black parishioners during a bible study meeting in 2015. Biden has told aides that Trump’s indifferent reaction to the deadly white supremecist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, was a major motivation for decision to run against Trump for President.

Lamb says Biden needs to avoid sounding like he is scolding voters, and make sure he remembers to tell voters how Trump is a threat to more than just democracy. "We won't have a strong economy with the chaos that Trump brings,” Lamb says. “We can have a fair economy where everyone has a chance.”

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