Biden rally blasts GOP, but real midterm effect will come on the road

President pitches message in county won with 79 percent of the vote

President Joe Biden speaks Thursday during a rally hosted by the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden speaks Thursday during a rally hosted by the Democratic National Committee at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Posted August 26, 2022 at 3:23pm

President Joe Biden cast the 2022 elections at a heavily publicized rally just outside the Beltway this week as a choice between Democrats who are trying to fix roads and bring down health care costs and extreme Republicans pushing “semi-fascism” and bent on “destroying America.”

But his upcoming travels, and trips by members of his Cabinet to battleground states and districts, might have a more tangible effect on the midterm elections than speeches to audiences invited by the Democratic National Committee.

Biden’s swing on Thursday through Montgomery County, Md., which he won with more than 79 percent of the vote in 2020, included a rally at a Rockville high school and an earlier fundraising stop at a private residence in Bethesda that a DNC official said would raise $1 million for party accounts.

Midterm elections historically result in the president’s party losing seats because voters see them as an up-or-down referendum on the party in power. But Biden, as he has in recent months, tried to turn the tables to make it a referendum on former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” brand of politics. 

“What we’re seeing now is either the beginning or the death knell of an extreme MAGA philosophy. It’s not just Trump, it’s the entire philosophy that underpins the — I’m going to say something, it’s like semi-fascism,” Biden said at the fundraiser.

At the Rockville rally, Biden touched on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and the Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights set in the Roe v. Wade precedent, arguing MAGA Republicans threaten more than personal rights and economic security.

“They're a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace, embrace political violence,” he said. “This is why in this moment, those of you who love this country — Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans — we must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving America than the MAGA Republicans are to destroying America.”

Republicans swatted away the president’s attack and put the focus back on him.

"In typical Biden fashion, instead of fixing the multiple crises he created, he comes back from weeks of vacation only to hobnob with liberal elites,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Emma Vaughn said in response to Biden’s fundraising. “If only Biden was as focused on serving hardworking Americans and families as he was on planning his vacations.”

The dollars collected at the fundraiser might be more valuable for the midterms than the rally inside the gymnasium at Richard Montgomery High School, which took place in a congressional district that’s safely Democratic and in a state in which incumbent Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen — who did not attend — seems to be a lock for reelection.

The president’s announced official travel for the coming weeks, however, includes stops in two states with Senate races that are key to efforts by Democrats to hold on to the majority. And his cabinet is traveling more widely in an attempt to highlight tangible effects of laws he signed.

Biden is scheduled to travel to Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Tuesday for remarks on gun safety, a trip that was originally scheduled last month but postponed after the president tested positive for COVID-19.

“We just passed the first significant gun safety legislation in 30 years in this country. And I promise you, we're not stopping here,” Biden said at the rally Thursday. “I'm determined to ban assault weapons in this country. I did it once before, and we will do it again. We're going to do it for those families in Buffalo, Uvalde, Newtown, El Paso, Parkland, Charleston, Las Vegas, Orlando. I've been to almost every one of those places to meet with those parents. We all got to do it. We're going to do it for all our kids gunned down in our streets every single day, every day, that never make the national news.”

Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright, whose 8th District race is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections, will appear with Biden when he travels to the district next week. Cartwright is facing a rematch with Republican Jim Bognet, a former Trump administration appointee who lost to Cartwright by 4 points in 2020 even as Trump carried the district by 4 points. After redistricting, Trump still would have carried the 8th District seat, but by a narrower 3-point margin.

A spokesperson for John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee in the race for an open Senate seat that could decide the chamber’s balance of power, didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he would also join Biden for the visit.

After Labor Day, the president is scheduled to visit Licking County, Ohio, east of Columbus, where Intel will be breaking ground on a new semiconductor manufacturing facility, giving Biden an obvious place to tout the enactment of the bipartisan CHIPS and Science law.

Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running for the state’s open Senate seat against Republican J.D. Vance, has kept his distance from the president on some of Biden’s previous jaunts through the Buckeye State. And Ryan criticized the administration’s move to forgive some federal student debt. But the congressman plans to participate in the Sept. 9 Intel groundbreaking in Ohio, said Caty Payette, the communications director of his congressional office. 

Biden’s Cabinet has been out and about highlighting the administration’s legislative successes throughout August, including making trips to some states with key House and Senate contests in November.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for instance, visited Sandusky, Ohio, on Thursday to highlight $24 million in funding for upgrades to U.S. Route 6, a key roadway in the city. He was joined by local officials including Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Inside Elections rates Kaptur’s race, against hard-right Republican J.R. Majewski, as a Toss-up. 

Earlier this week, Buttigieg’s travels to highlight bipartisan infrastructure law projects took him to Fernley, Nev., a community in the northern part of the state where there has been a long-time effort to connect Interstate 80 with U.S. Route 50. That project is receiving $25 million in new funding. Friday’s schedule takes the secretary to northern New Hampshire.

Both New Hampshire and Nevada have incumbent Democratic senators — Maggie Hassan and Catherine Cortez Masto, respectively — with hotly contested reelection campaigns this year. The Nevada race is rated a Toss-up by Inside Elections, while the New Hampshire race is in the Tilt Democratic column.

Competitive races in the D.C. suburbs

Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger was focused on health care, including provisions of recent legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for some prescription drugs and extend subsidies to help people afford health insurance bought on the exchanges, during two stops on Thursday. Inside Elections rates her race in the 7th District against Republican Yesli Vega as Tilt Democratic. Spanberger appeared with Biden earlier this year to tout work on health care costs.

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, center, watches a TytoCare telehealth demonstration at George Mason University's Mason and Partners clinic in Woodbridge, Va., on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

“Today I am proud to stand here alongside both providers and patients to make clear that we are taking actions, not just talking about action, but we are getting things done,” Spanberger said at an event highlighting the law at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va. “And I'm proud that the Inflation Reduction Act recognizes that getting sick in America costs too much money.”

In an interview, Spanberger said the new law is breaking through to voters and is “one more really strong proof point in a series of strong significant actions” on which she is able to campaign heading into the fall. She also cited legislation meant to limit gun violence, improve infrastructure and increase production of semiconductors. 

Biden’s use of his bully pulpit to highlight priorities such as a public safety plan the White House recently proposed can be helpful, but Spanberger noted that lawmakers had already been working on many of those issues. 

“It was great to see the White House using the strength that is their soapbox to say, like, ‘These are the things that we want Congress to work on,’” she said. “I've been working on it long before the press release. But it's nice to see that kind of secondary voice so that everybody knows.”

Democratic Rep. David Trone, whose 6th District in the Maryland suburbs is not far from where Biden held his rally Thursday, is in the state’s only competitive House race. The DCCC included him in its Frontline incumbent protection program in June. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Democratic. 

Trone did not attend Biden’s event this week — he was out of town with family, and the event was in the solid Democratic district of Rep. Jamie Raskin — but, unlike some vulnerable incumbents, Trone has embraced the president, including in July, when Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra joined the congressman for events focused on abortion rights and mental health in Germantown and Gaithersburg. 

“Too often, we don't think about the good work that President Biden has done,” Trone said July 22 during an event focused on the new 988 suicide prevention hotline. “Sometimes you read the polls, and I don't understand it. I mean, the man has done wonderful, wonderful work.”

Trone, whose personal wealth as owner of a chain of wine and liquor stores has allowed him to loan his campaign $12.5 million this cycle, added that he had hosted Biden for fundraisers at his home, including one in May at which the president reiterated his strong support for federal funding for mental health and addiction treatment. 

“He’s been totally consistent and, as an appropriator, it's billions of dollars that are in these budgets now,” said Trone, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “Billions on mental health, billions on addiction that were never ever there before. This president gets it, this president cares about folks that don't have a voice. And we're just so fortunate to have that type of leadership from the White House. So I'm a huge Biden supporter.”