Three presidents — one sitting and two former — descended on Pennsylvania on Saturday for a final midterm push, raising the stakes in one of the nation’s favorite Senate races.
Pennsylvania was a political stress test for President Joe Biden, who had a rare meeting with former President Barack Obama in Philadelphia to promote Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a trip he has made 20 times since taking office. .
For former President Donald Trump, who rallied outside Pittsburgh on Saturday night in Latrobe, a victory for his hand-picked candidate, Dr. Mehmet Oz, could prove his viability in the narrowly-lost Commonwealth in 2020.
Its consequences are not far from next week’s election. As Trump prepares to announce his third presidential bid, possibly in the coming weeks, Biden’s aides are taking the first steps to launch his re-election campaign. The dynamics of a potential 2020 rematch unfolded over several hours on Saturday.
This moment marks a historical anomaly. Past presidents have traditionally kept a low profile in day-to-day politics, often avoiding direct criticism of former incumbents. No defeated one-term president has won the White House since Grover Cleveland in 1892.
The presidents’ convergence in Pennsylvania, each warning of dire consequences if the opposing side wins, reflects the changed norms Trump introduced when he took office six years ago, quickly spreading trumped-up charges of espionage and general misconduct against Obama.
In North Philadelphia, Biden told a crowd at Temple University that Fetterman would protect Social Security and Medicare and focus on veterans.
“When I ran for the presidency, my goal was to build the economy from the bottom up and from the middle. This is a fundamental change compared to Oz and mega MAGA Republican economics,” Biden said, referring to Dr. Mehmet Oz, Fetterman’s GOP opponent.
As the crowd screamed, the president continued: “Not really. This is not your father’s Republican Party. This is a different breed of cat. I really mean it. Look, they’re all about the rich getting richer. And the rich stay rich. The middle class is getting tighter. The poor get poorer because of their policies.”
Obama offered a prebuttal on the likelihood of Democratic losses.
“I can tell you from experience that the midterms are very important,” Obama said in the 2010 election, which saw the GOP regain control of the House during his first administration.
“When I was president, I got my butt kicked in the mid-term elections. I was elected during the financial crisis and we did the right things to get the economy back on track, but it was slow and people were just as frustrated as they are now.
Biden, who spent much of his first year in office avoiding mentioning Trump’s name, is no longer so cautious. He called out “Trump and all his Trumps” at a rally in California this week and called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis “Trump incarnate” during a fundraiser near Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. At his rallies, Trump plays a video clip to portray his successor as an unscrupulous senior citizen, but he hasn’t gone after Obama much.
Obama, meanwhile, has lashed out at Trump-backed candidates, many of whom have cast themselves as models for the 45th president, rejecting the outcome of the 2020 election.
“Just because someone is on TV doesn’t make it happen. It turns out that being president or governor is not about fast lines and good lighting,” Obama told Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, a former local news anchor, last week.
Pennsylvania’s Senate and gubernatorial races are the only races of this year’s midterm cycle that Biden has won multiple times. In other high-profile races, candidates have kept their distance from the president, who enjoys underwater approval ratings.
That was not the case for Obama, who has been popular among Democrats in close races. In the final weeks of the campaign, Obama held raucous rallies in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada — all states Biden has avoided in recent months as the candidates try to fend off Republican forces.
It’s a 180-degree turn from the midterm cycles during Obama’s presidency, when Biden carried more states, including conservative-leaning districts, where the incumbent was seen as a drag on Democratic candidates.
Officials say Biden is not annoyed or even surprised that Obama has lost more than him in this year’s election campaign. He has discussed some of the races with his former boss and believes Obama’s message will resonate with voters and complement his speech.
Still, their joint appearance Saturday underscored their different styles and political skills — a comparison that even some Democrats say ultimately favors Obama.
“You always ask me how we are doing, I know. I think we will win this time. I feel very good about our chances,” Biden told reporters in California on Friday.
Even as many Democrats worry about the future of their party, the president praised Democrats’ chances next week. His campaign schedule — pushing out candidates in closer-than-expected races in blue states — is a sign of Democrats’ weakness.
In the final days of the campaign, Biden traveled mostly to the blue states he won, but the Democratic races are closer than expected. He will campaign in New Mexico, California and Illinois on Saturday in Pennsylvania and campaign with New York Governor Katie Hochul on Sunday. He will spend Election Day in Maryland.
According to people familiar with Biden’s thinking, not all of those Democratic candidates accept him as a surrogate, and his approval ratings remain underwater. He told other Democrats that he respects their political intuition when it comes to their races.
But he has become disaffected, arguing that he is a political albatross, arguing that his policies, when properly explained, are widespread among voters.
Compared to both Obama and Trump, Biden has held far fewer campaign rallies for his party this midterm cycle. Most of his meetings over the past month have been formal events, sometimes attended by a few dozen people.
His rallies began to draw larger crowds in the waning days of the campaign. Six hundred people had to be turned away from an event in Southern California on Friday, the White House said. While Biden was holding a rally with New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, he addressed the crowd that could not fit into the main venue.
“I know you don’t think so, but I think we have a really good crowd. They are very enthusiastic. “You don’t write it that way, but that’s what they are,” Biden said Friday as he left California.
Still, his stories didn’t generate the same kind of electricity as Obama’s. The former president has spoken at rallies across the country in recent weeks, using tongue-in-cheek humor and humor to poke fun at Trump and his aides running for office.
Like Biden, he said the American system of government is at risk in next week’s election, telling people in Arizona that “democracy as we know it” could disappear if the rejects take office.
Obama and Biden last visited the White House together in September, when Obama’s official portrait was unveiled in the East Room of the White House. The event was canceled during Trump’s tenure because neither the Obamas nor the Trumps were interested in putting on a friendly show.
As he campaigned for his favored candidates this fall, Trump has made little effort to hide his larger intentions: to bolster his presidential campaign, which he hopes will return him to the White House.
“Get ready, that’s all I’m saying,” Trump told a crowd in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday, adding, “He’s probably going to do it again.”
Top Trump aides have discussed the third week of November as an ideal starting point for his 2024 presidential campaign if Republicans do well in the midterm elections, sources familiar with the matter said.
For Biden, the decision may take a little longer. When asked about his timeline, he pointed to family discussions around the holidays. Members of his political team have made early preparations for the campaign infrastructure, operating under the assumption that he will decide to run again.
His motivating factor, aides say, is whether Trump will jump on him.
This story has been updated with additional information.