February 1, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) – To help Democrats win their 51st Senate seat in a Georgia runoff, President Joe Biden is traveling to… Massachusetts?

Days before the polls close Tuesday, Biden has no plans to visit Georgia. Instead, he will aim to support Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection campaign remotely with appearances Friday at a Boston telephone bank and a fundraiser.

They mark the culmination of Biden’s long-distance support strategy, which he employed throughout the half and credited his aides with helping his party exceed expectations in key races.

Biden was due to join a phone bank run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to support Warnock’s campaign before appearing at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has spent millions of dollars supporting Warnock’s campaign against the Republican Boost challenger Herschel Walker.

Aides said the Boston trip was requested by Warnock’s campaign and that Biden was committed, reflecting his pledge to go where Democratic candidates wanted him in 2022.

“The President is willing to help Senator Warnock in any way he can, but the Senator wants him to interfere,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said this week. Most of the time that also meant not going where you didn’t want him to go.

Ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm election, Biden avoided entering key Senate races in states like Georgia, Arizona and New Hampshire, where his approval ratings nationwide lagged behind his numbers.

Biden, a 50-year Washington veteran, recognized that statewide candidates in particular would try to carve out a clear identity for voters frustrated with Washington politics, his aides said. Meanwhile, he proved a boon to Pennsylvania Senator-elect John Fetterman’s candidacy, and his performances with more than a dozen House candidates helped Democrats keep Republicans by the narrowest of margins in the upcoming Congress.

While he wasn’t in those states in person, White House officials said, Biden spoke remotely on the issues relevant to those races — from cutting healthcare costs to fighting efforts to undermine election results.

“It didn’t matter where the President went; his message resonated well,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that Biden spoke about Democrats’ legislative accomplishments. “And that worked. Right? That worked.”

Warnock has distanced himself from Biden throughout the campaign. That’s a stark contrast to the runoff after the 2020 election, when Biden came into the state as president-elect with the balance of the Senate and told Georgia voters they would determine the success of his administration and agenda.

His aides have explained that since his runoff victory in January 2021, Warnock knew he would only win re-election in a half if he won votes from Georgians inclined to support Republicans — and that was before the generational high Inflation skyrocketed and Biden’s approval ratings plummeted.

After Biden’s popularity waned in Georgia, Warnock framed himself as a bipartisan dealmaker in Washington. In his campaign speeches, more than he mentions Biden or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, he mentions Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida and various measures he has co-sponsored with those Republican colleagues. And when he mentions Biden, he’s supposed to tell voters how much he’s been pressuring the president to live up to his promise to ease the burden of student loans.

Warnock has consistently avoided answering whether he thinks Biden should run again in 2024 and whether he would back the president if he seeks a second term.

Even as the senator welcomed former President Barack Obama to Georgia on Thursday for the second time this campaign cycle, Warnock’s campaign this week deferred questions about Biden’s fundraiser to the campaign arm of the Democratic Senate.

So far, Warnock’s approach has paid off. He was the only Georgia Democrat to survive to the runoff, when Walker trailed all of his Republicans and, importantly, received 200,000 fewer votes than Gov. Brian Kemp, who was driving for re-election.

Warnock also consistently topped Biden’s 2020 percentages in urban and suburban counties, as well as some rural areas.

While Democrats already have control of the Senate for another two years thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ landmark vote, a true 51-seat majority would speed up the confirmation process for Biden’s nominees and provide the president with a cushion should any lawmaker oppose the party line line up

“It’s always better at 51 because we’re in a situation where you don’t have to have an even composition of committees,” Biden told reporters last month. “And that’s why it’s so important. But it’s just better. The bigger the numbers, the better.”

During his stay in Boston, Biden will also greet Britain’s Prince and Princess of Wales, William and Kate, who are in town for the Earthshot awards ceremony, a global competition to fight climate change.

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