Swing-state Senate Democrats are touting Biden’s record – without mentioning him

Democrats locked in competitive Senate races are leaning into their party’s legislative accomplishments in ads touting investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, as well as the lowering the cost of some prescription drugs, such as insulin.

The senators, whose votes sent the bills to the White House, are front and center. But one name is often missing: President Joe Biden, who signed the bills into law.

In an election in which most Democrats will be running on reproductive rights and contrasts with Republican leadership, senators such as Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania are emphasizing their roles in advancing key parts of the Biden agenda without mentioning the president.

For incumbents, these recent ads are an opportunity to remind voters of their track records. But the spots also highlight the balancing act they’ll have to perform to win crossover votes from independents and Republicans who won’t back Biden.

“They’re following the opinion of their voters,” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist. “These are Democrats who are in swing states where they need to appeal to voters that don’t like Biden, that are maybe pro-Trump voters.”

Democrats will need to defend seven competitive seats – including five in presidential battlegrounds – and win the White House to maintain the majority in the Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin’s announced retirement has likely taken West Virginia out of contention for Democrats, and Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana are seeking reelection in states Trump won by 8 and 16 points, respectively. In the Blue Wall states – considered must-wins for Biden – Democrats are defending Baldwin and Casey and an open seat in Michigan.

Part of Democrats’ challenge will be defining their record before Republicans can. GOP groups plan to blame inflation on the American Rescue Plan – Biden’s Covid-19 economic recovery package – and argue the Inflation Reduction Act, which provided millions in funding for health care and climate change initiatives, didn’t live up to its name.

Republicans will also, of course, seek to tie Senate candidates to Biden.

“All of these Senate Democrats endorsed Joe Biden and voted for his agenda more than 90% of the time – so they’ll be appearing with Biden in campaign ads whether they like it or not,” Mike Berg, spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement.

Polls show Senate Democratic candidates running ahead of Biden, who has been plagued by low approval ratings and who trails or ties Trump in key states. For months, Democrats have argued the president’s support will grow as voters tune in closer to the election and learn more about his agenda.

The Biden campaign pointed to the midterm elections in 2022, when Democrats fought off an expected red wave, as evidence that the president’s agenda is a boon to down-ballot candidates.

“From lowering drug prices to defending our reproductive rights, President Biden’s record won at the ballot box in 2022 and it will win again in 2024,” Biden campaign spokesperson Seth Schuster said in a statement.

There are signs that voters aren’t broadly aware of Democrats’ record. A KFF poll from May found that 52% of registered voters older than 65 were aware the Inflation Reduction Act capped the cost of insulin for Medicare recipients at $35 per month. An AP-NORC poll from April found that about a third of voters didn’t know enough about the Inflation Reduction Act to say whether it had made a difference on climate change, the economy or inflation.

“Whether it’s Sen. Casey or any other senator running – or, quite frankly, Joe Biden – they should be talking about these major pieces of legislation that they pass,” said Mike Mikus, a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist. “One, because it’s good for this country. But two, and more importantly, voters agree with what they did.”

Millions in ads

In a recent ad dubbed “Engine,” Casey highlights the CHIPS and Science Act, one of Biden’s biggest legislative wins. The measure, which passed Congress with bipartisan support in the summer of 2022, is aimed at boosting semiconductor manufacturing in the US.

“Ninety percent of our advanced semiconductor chips were being made in Asia, creating havoc in our supply chains and raising costs,” Casey says in the spot. “That’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass the CHIPS and Science Act to produce our own chips right here in America.”

Casey, along with Tester and Brown, has also aired ads on his work to pass legislation to help veterans affected by burn pits.

“By highlighting Pennsylvanians’ shared core values, Senator Casey will continue to earn every vote and support Democrats up and down the ballot,” Maddy McDaniel, a spokesperson for Casey, said in a statement.

Baldwin, meanwhile, went up with an ad promoting another major piece of Biden record, the Inflation Reduction Act’s insulin cost cap.

The ad says that Baldwin “stood up to the drug companies and wrote a law capping the cost of insulin” and that “thanks to Tammy, now it just costs $35 a month.”

Andrew Mamo, a spokesperson for Baldwin’s campaign, said the campaign’s ads were meant to highlight the work the senator has done over the years. Her first reelection ad spotlighted her proposals to promote American manufacturing, which the ad notes were signing into law by both Trump and Biden. Others have focused on a bill to crack down on illicit fentanyl entering the US that she co-sponsored.

“Voters aren’t looking for you to change the world, but they’re looking for you to make their lives better. … And that’s what our ads show that Tammy’s doing,” Mamo said.

Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said he believes Democrats’ unified messaging on abortion, democracy and the contrast with Trump will help all party candidates on the ballot in the state. In addition to reelecting Biden and Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrats hope to gain ground in the state Legislature.

“Having multiple Democrats communicating in multiple ways in multiple places at any given moment about that same vision, agenda and set of values – that’s what creates the harmony you need to make sure that the tune carries,” Wikler said.

At times, the candidates communicate the message on the same stage. In January, Baldwin appeared with Biden in her home state at an official event highlighting infrastructure bill funding that will replace a bridge connecting Wisconsin to Minnesota.

Last week, after Casey appeared with Biden in Philadelphia as the president visited the state to appeal to Black voters, the senator’s GOP opponent, Dave McCormick, knocked Casey for voting with Biden 98.5% of the time.

The ad wars in both states are just getting started. Keystone Renewal, a super PAC supporting McCormick, announced Thursday that it plans to spend an additional $30 million on the race. The group has already spent $3.6 million on ads boosting McCormick’s profile and slamming the Biden administration’s management of the southern border.

And as Baldwin went on the air with her insulin ad, her likely Republican opponent, businessman Eric Hovde, released an ad focused on inflation and high prices.

“Career politicians like Biden and Baldwin just don’t get it,” Hovde says as he walks down a grocery store aisle lined with condiments and canned goods. “They’re making things harder for folks here in Wisconsin.”

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