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As Biden gets the hook, despairing Democrats look to Obama as midterms savior

But the ex-president's reputation as a closer is belied by a record in midterm and off-year elections that is defined largely by defeats and blown saves.

Published: November 4, 2022 4:26pm

Updated: November 4, 2022 11:06pm

It's late in the postseason, your team's back is against the wall, and your ineffective starter has gotten the hook. You have no choice but to turn to your star closer in the bullpen to help pull off a miracle. And that's exactly what the Democrats are doing.

While President Biden has made a few stops on the campaign trail this election season, he has mostly been relegated to infrequent, low-leverage appearances by his own team, due to low approval ratings and continuous gaffes on and off stage. 

With a recession looming, historically high inflation and gas prices fueled by government spending and energy policies, and crises on multiple fronts from the border to crime to an exponential surge in fentanyl deaths among youth, the Democrats face extremely strong headwinds in the midterms.

In a last-minute effort to generate enthusiasm among the party's base, Democrats have turned to the bullpen and enlisted their star closer, former President Barack Obama. He has created dozens of campaign ads, and barnstormed across the country, in hopes he can prop up candidates in critical races, during the waning days of the midterm elections.

Over the past few days, Obama has made stops in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Arizona. He will finish his tour with multiple stops in Pennsylvania over the weekend, culminating with an event in Philadelphia, where he'll be joined by his old friend Joe Biden.

Obama is no stranger to the rigors of the campaign trail. Over the years he has been dubbed the "Campaigner-in-Chief." Appearing effortless at the podium, he is a masterful orator whose rhetoric can fire up crowds and generate enthusiasm. But as "Closer-in-Chief" in midterm and off-year elections his reputation is belied by a record riddled with defeats and blown saves.

During his own presidency, Obama and congressional Democrats were crushed by a "red wave" during the 2010 midterms, losing 63 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate, ceding control of the House to Republicans. Granted, Obama was handed a tough economy, and midterms typically mean significant losses for the party in power during a president's first term, regardless of their popularity. But this was a stunning rebuke by voters who were seemingly unhappy with the government overreach of Obamacare and the slow economic recovery during the first two years of his presidency.

The following day Obama said, "I'm not recommending for every future president to take a shellacking like I did last night." 

Republicans handed Obama another defeat in 2014, taking 13 seats in the House and 9 in the Senate, gaining control of both chambers on Capitol Hill, which stymied the rest of his time in office, including his nomination of Merrick Garland to succeed Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court following the death of the conservative justice.

More recently in 2021, Obama was recruited to help Terry McAuliffe, in his bid to become Virginia's governor for a second time. McAuliffe, a longtime ally, Clinton friend, and Democratic stalwart, was previously elected governor in 2013, while Obama was still in the White House, and served from 2014-2018. His opponent last year was Glenn Youngkin, a self-funded businessman and Virginia native, who had never set foot in the political arena.

This was a quintessential David vs. Goliath matchup, especially with big hitters like Obama stepping up to the plate for McAuliffe. In a campaign ad during the closing days of the race, Obama made an appeal to the voters. "Virginia, you have a lot of responsibility this year," he said. "Not only are you choosing your next governor, but you're also making a statement about what direction we're heading in as a country."

A few days later, Obama appeared at a rally for McAuliffe, along with other big name Democrats, mocking Youngkin as a "regular, old, hoops-playing, dishwashing, fleece-wearing guy," while attacking him for his positions on voter integrity and standing up for parents who had become increasingly vocal over education issues. That line may have won some laughs from the audience, but he couldn't close the deal.

In the end, the issue of education had already sealed McAuliffe's fate weeks earlier, when he stated during a debate, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." Even with the star closer coming out of the bullpen to save the day, Youngkin went on to defeat McAuliffe, delivering Biden his first big loss.

Obama asked Virginia voters to make a statement, and they did.

As this current election season heated up, and the economy continued to stagger, there was a lot of talk early in the year about a "red wave" that could once again flip both chambers of Congress. That language was dialed back over the summer when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, giving Democrats what they felt was a pivotal issue to generate enthusiasm among voters, and polls began to shift.

But in politics, the economy trumps social issues in uncertain times. A couple of years ago, the U.S. had a roaring economy. Now, the country is facing one of the worst economies in decades. As the old saying goes, people vote their pocketbooks. Or as Democrat strategist James Carville memorably put it, "It's the economy, stupid."

Polling in recent weeks bears that out, showing the economy as the overwhelming issue for voters this election cycle, and once again there is talk of an impending "red wave."

Comedian Joe Rogan recently quipped on his podcast, "The red wave that's coming is gonna' be like the elevator doors opening up in The Shining." With an audience in the tens of millions, the clip went viral.

It appears Democrats are finally heeding Carville's advice. Though it's late in the game, and their record on the economy is a hard one to defend, they are lighting up the campaign trail over fears that the Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Republicans have pushed back on this new talking point, calling it completely false, while claiming they actually have a plan to save and strengthen Social Security and Medicare. That hasn't stopped Democrats from pushing this narrative.

President Biden used it while campaigning in Florida earlier this week. Even former President Bill Clinton has come off the sidelines to help sell this narrative to voters in New York. But it was Obama's fiery speech in Wisconsin last Saturday that garnered the most attention. In a rare moment, the usually calm, cool, and collected former president got visibly heated while selling the Social Security talking point. That clip went viral, as well, but will it be enough to close the deal with voters?

Biden and Obama have chosen to meet up in Philadelphia to make their final pitch to voters on Saturday, as they try to rally support for Senate candidate John Fetterman and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro. Pennsylvania is critical to Democrats' hopes of retaining the Senate.

The City of Brotherly Love was the backdrop when the duo kicked off their historic inaugural celebration in 2009, as they boarded a train and headed to Washington. It makes sense logistically, since Philly is relatively close to Biden's beach house in Delaware. Even during the run-up to election day, the president has spent a lot of time vacationing there, despite calling this "the most consequential election in our history."

But this is also the city where Biden gave his extremely polarizing "red speech" back in September. The incendiary contents of the speech, combined with the visuals of Independence Hall suffused with an ominous red light while the president was flanked by Marine guards, were widely criticized on both sides of the aisle.

Maybe they're trying to capitalize on the enthusiasm of the Phillies postseason run to the World Series? Could be risky: In recent weeks, the internet has been blowing up with a trivial, yet true correlation between Philadelphia's World Series victories and major economic downturns in 1929, 1980, and 2008.

After pocketbook issues, rampant crime is the second most important concern across the country in this election cycle, according to polls — and Philly has seen a surge of violent crime under progressive, George-Soros-backed District Attorney Larry Krassner, who is facing possible impeachment by the state Legislature.

In a national political climate shaped by economic anxiety and fear of crime, the subliminal messaging embedded in the choice of Philadelphia as the site for the Democrats' closing argument to the nation may be suboptimal, to put it mildly.

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