A strong election night for his party has left President Joe Biden and his campaign facing a key question over whether Democratic momentum will translate for his own reelection effort.
The Biden campaign feels confident about the saliency of issues like abortion heading into 2024, suggesting that key Biden agenda items motivated the voters they need on Tuesday and will do so again next year. But unlike on Tuesday, the president – who has his own political liabilities and will be 81 on Election Day as he pushes his record as the oldest president in US history – will be on the ballot on November 5, 2024.
New CNN polling conducted by SSRS shows stark warning signs for Biden, who has a 39% approval rating. The same poll found that three-quarters of voters are concerned about the president’s age and stamina.
“Last night, I think the American people made clear that they are prepared to stand for freedom and for the individual freedoms and the promise of freedom of America, and by extension, it was a good night for democracy,” said Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday, taking the unusual step of addressing reporters in the White House driveway, a rare move for a vice president.
Still, she acknowledged headwinds as she and Biden face bruising poll numbers ahead of next year’s presidential election.
“It was a good night,” she said. “And the president and I obviously have a lot of work to do to earn our reelection, but I am confident that we are going to win.”
CNN’s poll found weakening support from the critical bloc of young voters he won by wide margins in 2020, such as Black voters. Among voters under 35, 48% support Trump, 47% Biden. It also found significant declines in support for Biden with voters of color compared to 2020 exit polls.
“Look, what we saw last night is MAGA extremism fail. We saw the mega MAGA agenda fall flat on his face,” Biden principal deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said during an appearance on “CNN This Morning” Wednesday.
“We saw voters stand up for a woman’s right to choose all across the country. And we saw an enthusiastic electorate turned out – the same electorate that sent President Biden and Vice President Harris to the White House four years ago, and we’ve seen them continuously turn out on the same issues.”
Biden ally and progressive Gen Z Rep. Maxwell Frost told CNN the polls were concerning, particularly the slipping in youth support.
“The polls do concern me,” he said Tuesday evening on Capitol Hill. “We need to recreate the 2020 coalition and build on top of it. It looks like that’s in a little bit of danger right now. I don’t think it’s far too gone at all. Now is the time that we fix it.”
A senior Biden campaign official downplayed CNN’s latest polling, and echoed campaign and White House officials who have repeatedly noted consistent strength for Democratic issues in every election since Biden took the White House in 2020.
“Polls a year out are just polls, and voting behavior is voting behavior. And the latter is what is going to win or lose an election. And every time voters have a chance to speak, they are siding with us,” the official said.
One of the races the Biden campaign was watching very closely was the Kentucky gubernatorial race, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won reelection over Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
The senior Biden campaign official noted that Cameron’s campaign spent $30 million on ads in a failed effort to tie Beshear to Biden.
“That was, essentially, a proxy war in a red state coming for Joe Biden, and lost, did not work. And it continues to be the extremism that that turns voters off,” the official said.
It remains unclear whether that will translate to Biden himself.
“Biden hasn’t been on the ballot. Voters have not rejected Joe Biden at the ballot box,” said Kate Bedingfield, a CNN political commentator and former White House communications director said.
She continued, “Is age a question? Is it at the forefront of the conversation? Yes. We certainly see that in the polling. But we also see that when the rubber meets the road and voters go to the polls, … the narrative doesn’t vote. Voters vote.”
As the campaign seeks to galvanize a roadmap from Tuesday’s results, it is specifically looking at counties in northern Kentucky where Beshear’s messaging focused on Cameron’s abortion stance.
“Without exceptions, those counties performed extraordinarily well,” the official said.
A second senior official noted that Beshear won Letcher County in Eastern Kentucky after former President Donald Trump won by a nearly-60-point margin in 2020.
There were also positive indicators for the campaign in Ohio, where the second official noted that the vast majority of voters under the age of 30 voted in favor of reproductive rights, as well as more than 70% of Hispanic voters and more than 80% of Black voters.
And in Pennsylvania, the campaign touted a doubling in the number of absentee ballot returns for youth voters since 2021.
The campaign acknowledges there is a challenge in reaching different voting groups.
“Our aim is to figure out the best way to utilize these messages to reach voters most effectively as we head into next year,” Fulks told CNN when pressed on whether the campaign needs to do a better job drawing contrast.
Fulks added, “We are in an extremely fragmented media environment and communicating with voters and America is more challenging than ever before.”
Amid concerns about Biden’s stamina, the campaign continues to frame his age as a source of wisdom in uncertain times, something the president has repeatedly told donors.
“Right now, this is not a time for anybody to learn on the job. This is a time that we need wisdom and experience. We need a steady hand in foreign policy. We need a steady hand in economic policy. And that’s what Joe Biden is bringing to the table,” Fulks said.
There are also efforts to draw those contrasts, with the campaign seizing Wednesday evening’s GOP debate in Miami as an opportunity to go on the offense against MAGA Republicans. Trump is again skipping the debate to host his own counterprogramming rally in nearby Hialeah, Florida.
A series of Biden surrogates will be “on the ground and on the airwaves” in South Florida, another campaign official said.
The campaign and DNC are hosting a “series of constituency engagement events focused specifically on the Latino community, Black voters, including an event in partnership with Rep. Federica Wilson targeted towards Black men, the Haitian community, and LGBTQ+ community,” the official said.
There will also be an “aggressive, bilingual rapid response,” as well as new ads targeting Latinos and other efforts “in key, high-traffic areas of Miami – including around the debate stage and Trump’s Hialeah rally.”
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