Democratic Party officials warn that President Biden’s reservoir of goodwill with the base would evaporate if he fails to make progress on voting rights, climate change and student debt — issues that animate grassroots activists who are key to keeping the party in power in next year’s midterm elections.
For the moment, Mr. Biden is riding high among Democrats because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and rapid moves to roll back former President Trump’s policies.
“I think people generally are pleased to see a lot of action taking place, especially on combating COVID and [sending] COVID relief and looking beyond the pandemic,” said Matthew Munsey, chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania’s Northampton County, where Mr. Biden bested Mr. Trump by less than 1% of the vote in the 2020 election.
“Certainly activists are pleased to see that Biden is sort of tacking everything head-on, and not waiting, or allowing things to be slowed down.”
A recent Monmouth University poll found 95% of Democrats approved of Mr. Biden’s job performance, compared to 11% of Republicans and 47% of independents.
The real test, Mr. Munsey said, will be for Mr. Biden to appeal to “the people in the middle” to fend off non-stop criticism from Republicans.
“Everyday people, no matter what their affiliation or where they come from, are seeing that this administration is treating their concerns with respect and humility and empathy,” he said. “Help is already here and it is continuing to come and I think at the end of the day that is what people feel and remember.”
The challenge facing Mr. Biden and Democrats in the midterms is re-energizing their winning coalitions in the states that helped drive his victory over Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump learned that lesson the hard way in the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats picked up 41 seats in the House and flipped control of the lower chamber. Republicans that year, however, picked up two seats in the Senate.
Mr. Munsey said activists in central Pennsylvania want Mr. Biden to be more aggressive in combating climate change and taking on the fossil fuel industry’s impact on the environment.
Voters in Wisconsin want Mr. Biden to forgive more federal student loan debt, said Democratic officials.
Jacquelyn Bettadapur, chairwoman of the Cobb County Georgia Democrats, said voters demand action on voting rights after the Republican-run state tightened election laws, including adding voter ID requirements to mail-in ballots.
Republicans say the new rules promote election integrity, but Democrats say it disenfranchises Black voters.
“In some ways this horrible voter suppression law — it is galvanizing and motivating. It is providing a lot of motivation for people to keep at it,” Ms. Bettadapur said.
Mr. Biden won Cobb County over Mr. Trump 56% to 42% and put Georgia in the Democratic column in a presidential race for the first time since 1992.
Democratic officials in battleground states also say Mr. Biden’s low-key style hits home with voters after four years of Mr. Trump’s bold, no-holds-barred style of governing.
“He has governed the exact way we thought he would,” said Matt Mareno, chairman of the Democratic Party in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. “He is kind of boring. He puts his head down and does the day-to-day job of being president.”
Mr. Trump beat Mr. Biden in Waukesha County 59% to 38%, though he lost Wisconsin.
Mr. Biden reversed Trump-era policies, including lifting rules that effectively banned transgender people from serving in the military, rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change, halting border wall construction, and rescinding a policy that forced migrants arriving at the southern border to wait in Mexico while applying for asylum.
Mr. Biden’s signature legislative achievement, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed without Republican support, sending out another round of stimulus checks, and allocating billions of dollars to states, localities and schools.
Democrats say the relief package reinforced the important role the federal government can play during a crisis.
Republicans say Mr. Biden has been a disaster and has shown he is beholden to the “radical” left wing of the Democratic Party.
Perhaps more than anything, Republicans have sought to shine a light on the “humanitarian and security crisis” on the southern border that they blame on the new administration.
They say Mr. Biden is weak on China and Russia. They say he wants to “pack” the Supreme Court. They say the $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan is a grab bag of new taxes and new spending that would drive up the national debt and hurt the economy.
“What we are confronted with here is a totally left-wing administration with a slight majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate trying to transform American into something that no one voted for last year,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill. “They want to change America into something it has never been.”
It is a rhetorical preview of the battle to come in the midterm elections that will serve as a referendum on Mr. Biden’s first two years in office.
Democrats are defending slim majorities in the House and Senate, and Republicans are bullish about their chances of flipping control of both chambers.
Of the 34 sets up for grabs, Republicans are defending 20 of them.
Plus, retirements in at least two states — North Carolina and Pennsylvania — have opened the door to toss-up races, and a retirement in the traditional bellwether of Ohio has provided Democrats with another shot of hope.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, has yet to decide whether he will fall back on his promise not to seek another term now that Mr. Trump and others have urged him to seek reelection.
On the Democratic side, Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia are viewed as the most vulnerable Democrats after winning their seats in special elections last year.