Democrats in competitive House races break from Biden

competitive vakil trip golden gperez frisch GregNashAP

Several Democrats running in competitive House districts this cycle are breaking from President Biden, underscoring growing concerns that the incumbent could be a down-ballot liability following his rocky debate performance in Atlanta last week. 

Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-Wash.) have both declared they have no confidence in Biden winning, while Adam Frisch, a Democrat running to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), said the president should withdraw. 

Their remarks come amid growing speculation that more members of the party will call for Biden to step aside after the fallout from last week’s debate. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Biden had spoken with several allies as he weighed his candidacy, though the White House has disputed that reporting. 

“We’ve got frontliners who, even before this, would have been trying to distance themselves from Biden anyway,” said one House Democrat, who spoke anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic.

“The query is: Do you need to distance yourself further by saying the Democrats should have somebody else at the top of the ticket?” the lawmaker added. “Because if that becomes what they need to do, then we’re really in trouble. He already is a down-ballot issue, especially in those states. How much worse does it get for them is the question.”

The president and his campaign have failed to quell Democratic anxiety over his candidacy, including longstanding concerns about his age and mental fitness, in the days since his disastrous debate performance against former President Trump.  

Several days after the CNN-hosted event, Biden campaign Chair Jen O’Malley Dillon released a memo projecting confidence about the state of the president’s candidacy while seeking to damp down fretting from the naysayers.  

But that has done little to quell the fear among Democrats, especially amid a string of polls showing they could have cause for concern. On Wednesday, a survey from The New York Times and Siena College showed Trump widening his lead against Biden at 49 percent to 43 percent among likely voters.

And a separate poll released Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal showed Trump widening his lead over Biden to 6 points, up from 2 points since a similar February poll was conducted.  

For Democrats, the stakes couldn’t be higher.  

They already face a challenging map in the Senate, leading to growing expectations that Republicans will seize the upper chamber in November. And the postdebate polls indicate Biden is trailing in key battleground states he’ll need to win a second term.  

Those dynamics have put increasing pressure on party leaders to shore up House races and flip control of the lower chamber, to ensure there’s a check on Republican power if Trump returns to the White House. The dynamic could very well lead donors to begin shifting resources as members of the party calculate where to most effectively invest amid a tumultuous election cycle. 

It won’t be easy.   

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, lists 39 Democratic House seats as vulnerable, compared with 30 Republican seats. Overall, The Hill/Decision Desk HQ’s election forecaster currently gives Republicans a 66-percent chance of keeping the House in November.

A number of top Democrats in and out of Congress have already started to ramp up pressure on Biden to drop out.

“I would ask him to not run on behalf of the — not just the party, but the country, because there’s so much at stake,” former Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told The Hill on Monday, when asked how he’d handle the issue if he was still in Congress. 

Following his comments, Ryan publicly called on Biden to withdraw in an op-ed. The former member of congress told The Hill that he’s “really disappointed that people aren’t being more vocal about it,” arguing that keeping Biden as the Democratic candidate “risks us winning the House.” 

On Wednesday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) became the second House Democrat to call on Biden to exit the race. Grijalva represents a safe district for Democrats, but other House members running in more competitive races have also sought distance from the incumbent.

“Biden’s poor performance in the debate was not a surprise,” Golden wrote in an op-ed for the Bangor Daily News. “It also didn’t rattle me as it has others, because the outcome of this election has been clear to me for months: While I don’t plan to vote for him, Donald Trump is going to win. And I’m OK with that.” 

Golden represents Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, which Trump won by 7 points in 2020. The Democrat is currently favored to win the seat, according to The Hill/Decision Desk HQ’s election forecaster.

Frisch, who’s running for the open seat in Colorado’s red-leaning 3rd Congressional District, became one of the first candidates to urge Biden to drop out. 

“I thank President Biden for his years of service, but the path ahead requires a new generation of leadership to take our country forward,” Frisch said Tuesday.

Added to Democrats’ woes, the election forecaster Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics shifted its ratings for two states, moving Michigan from “leans Democratic” to “toss up” and moving the more reliably blue Minnesota from “likely Democratic” to “leans Democrat.” Democrats are defending at least four swing districts between the two states.  

Most members have not staked out a clear position on Biden’s future, careful not to get ahead of the Biden campaign while also acknowledging the tumultuous path that lies ahead for him after the debate.  

Still, some are expressing openness to another option — if it becomes available.  

“I think it is fair to say that the vice president makes a very compelling case as to why Donald Trump is a threat and is unfit to be president, particularly as it relates to democracy and voting, voting rights and reproductive freedom, and those are going to be incredibly important arguments in this election,” said one vulnerable House Democrat, when asked if they would feel more at ease with Vice President Harris at the top of the ticket.

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