House Democrats are finding themselves beset by national crises, as Republicans tie vulnerable incumbents to rising crime, inflation, illegal immigration — and now an increasingly unpopular President Biden.
Democrats, who are fighting to hold onto their razor-thin majority in the lower chamber, already face a historical disadvantage as the party that captures the White House nearly always loses congressional seats in the next midterm vote. But falling approval numbers for Mr. Biden are presenting a new vulnerability to be exploited by the GOP.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see us tying more candidates to Biden because he continues to slide in popularity, which is a relatively new development with his poll numbers really tanking in the last month,” a national Republican strategist said.
Mr. Biden‘s approval rating has fallen in the wake of the administration’s chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and may also reflect voter concerns over the economy and a renewed surge in the COVID-19 delta variant.
Mr. Biden, who has held relatively steady approval ratings since January, saw his rating drop roughly eight points from July to September, according to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker.
In July, Mr. Biden had an approval rating of nearly 53% and a disapproval rating of almost 43%. By September, Mr. Biden had a 45% approval and nearly 48% disapproval rating.
Jacob Neiheisel, a political science professor at the University at Buffalo, said it’s been a “time honored tradition” that midterm elections are a referendum on the sitting president, and blunders from the White House are likely to accelerate efforts from the minority party.
“The president slipping in the polls or high-profile failures of the administration is something you’d want to bring into the midterm contest, particularly if it’s something that is going to play writ large,” Mr. Neiheisel said.
Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to reclaim the majority in the House that they lost in 2018 — the first midterm election after President Trump took office.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting 57 Democratic seats ahead of the 2022 midterms, including some who represent districts won by Mr. Trump and others in states with GOP-controlled legislatures in the process of redrawing congressional maps.
The House GOP campaign arm has already blasted out ads that have tied several vulnerable Democrats to national issues.
Among the most targeted members include Maine Rep. Jared Golden and Arizona Rep. Tom O’Halleran, both members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition; Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne, whose Des Moines district was won by Mr. Trump; and New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski, who is under an ethics investigation over stock trades.
Some state parties have already begun the effort of tying the Democratic incumbents to Mr. Biden.
“New polling out today suggests that not only is Biden in real trouble in Iowa, but he‘s taking Cindy Axne down with him,” the Iowa GOP Party said in a statement this week.
But Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said Republicans, are likely to find more success painting Democrats as out-of-touch leftists than they will with a strategy that makes Mr. Biden the centerpiece.
“Biden, right now, is probably a couple of points underwater in his job approval rating, but his rating is much significantly higher than Trump’s was any time during his presidency,” Mr. Bannon said.
Mr. Bannon expects the GOP’s use of liberal figures such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to sway more voters, arguing that Mr. Biden lacks a personal aggression that could be used against him.
“Biden doesn’t have that hard edge which makes him an inviting target in the same way that Trump or Obama was,” Mr. Bannon said. “People may have problems with Biden‘s performance, but I don’t think they have a problem with his personality, and a sharp, abrasive personality makes for a better target.”
In 2020, tying moderate Democrats to far-left figures in the party like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was partly blamed for the loss of several House seats held by Democrats, largely in rural and suburban districts.
But, Mr. Biden has also seen a shift in approval from middle-of-the-road voters, the group most likely to swing an election for either party.
A September Washington Post-ABC News poll found that just 36% of self-described independents approve of the president’s performance, compared to 57% who disapprove. In June and April, more independents approved of Mr. Biden then disapproved.
The poll surveyed 1,006 U.S. adults between Aug. 29 to Sept. 1 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 %.
Mr. Neiheisel said much will depend on how various issues such as the situation in Afghanistan, the pandemic and the economy are playing out next November, but dissatisfaction of Mr. Biden among independents right now shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“It’s really folks who, frankly, aren’t paying a whole lot of attention most of the time and are kind of encouraged at various points in time to reengage, that’s the crowd you have to worry about,” Mr. Neiheisel said. “It’s their opinions that are going to matter going forward here.”