Friday, President Joe Biden called fellow Democrats to talk about the runoff election for Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock. He also got volunteers hot coffee and thanked them for their help. But this busy call center wasn’t in Georgia.
Even though Georgia’s election is on Tuesday, Biden still has no plans to go there. Instead, the president tried to help the Democrats win the 51st Senate seat from afar on Friday. He went to a union hall and spoke at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has spent millions of dollars to help Warnock’s campaign against Republican Herschel Walker.
It was the end of Biden’s strategy of supporting from afar, which he used throughout the midterm elections and which his staffers say helped his party do better than expected in key races. Biden told members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who were looking over voter lists, “This race in Georgia is important.” “This person needs our help.”
Even Biden got a little confused when he talked about going north to help a candidate in the south. He said, “I’m going to Georgia today,” but quickly corrected himself to say, “I’m going to Boston today to do a major fundraiser for our next and continuing Senate candidate and senator.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, was at the phone bank and said she told Warnock she would hold a fundraiser for him in her home state. “What you’ll get is the best part: workers in Georgia will be making calls for you.” Aides said that Warnock’s campaign asked Biden to go to Boston, and he did so because he had promised that he would go wherever Democratic candidates wanted him in 2022.
This week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “The president is willing to help Senator Warnock in any way he can, however, the senator wants him to get involved.” Most of the time, that meant he couldn’t go where he wasn’t welcome. Before the midterm elections on November 8, Biden stayed out of key Senate races in Georgia, Arizona, and New Hampshire, where his approval ratings are lower than they are national.
Biden had lived in Washington for 50 years, so his staff said he knew that statewide candidates in particular would try to stand out from the crowd to appeal to voters who were tired of politics in the capital city. In Pennsylvania, he helped Sen.-elect John Fetterman’s campaign, and his video appearances with more than a dozen House candidates helped Democrats make sure that Republicans will only have a small majority in the House in the next Congress.
White House staffers said that even though Biden wasn’t in many states in person, he was still talking about issues that were important in those races, like lowering healthcare costs and stopping attempts to change election results. “It didn’t matter where the president went; his message was very clear,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that Biden talked about the Democrats’ legislative successes. “Yes, it worked. Right? “It worked.
During his campaign, Warnock has tried to get away from Biden. That’s a big difference from the runoff election after the 2020 election when Biden came to Georgia as president-elect and told voters they would decide the success of his administration and plans.
Biden told the Boston phone bank workers that the GOP would often say that Warnock voted with him 98% of the time during the 2022 election. Biden joked, “I wouldn’t tell them that over the phone.” Warnock’s staffers say that he knew when he won the runoff election in January 2021 that he could only win reelection in a midterm by getting votes from some Georgians who usually vote Republican. This was before inflation rose to a generationally high level and Biden’s approval ratings fell.
Biden’s popularity in Georgia was falling, so Warnock presented himself as a dealmaker in Washington who worked with both parties. In his campaign speeches, he talks more about Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida and the bills he’s worked on with them than he does about Biden or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. When he does talk about Biden, it’s to tell voters how hard he pushed the president to keep his promise to make it easier to pay off student loans.
Warnock has never said whether he thinks Biden should run for president again in 2024 or if he would support the president if he did. Even though Senator Warnock welcomed former President Obama to Georgia for the second time this election cycle on Thursday, questions about Biden’s fundraiser were referred to the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm this week.
So far, Warnock’s plan has worked out. He was the only Georgia Democrat to make it to a statewide runoff. All of Walker’s fellow Republicans finished behind him, and he got over 200,000 fewer votes than Gov. Brian Kemp, who easily won re-election. Warnock’s 2020 numbers were always higher than Biden’s in both cities and suburbs, and in some rural areas as well.
Even though Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote gave Democrats control of the Senate for another two years, a true majority of 51 seats would speed up the confirmation process for Biden’s nominees and give the president a cushion.
Late on Friday, Biden met with Democratic donors at a private home in the wealthy neighborhood of Beacon Hill. He told them how important that 51st vote would be if Warnock won, especially for big-ticket bills that have sometimes failed when a single senator backed out. “We can’t have this hanging out on a thread, every single vote we have,” he said.
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