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Ahead of the midterms, Biden takes to the road to tout Democratic successes


President Biden heads to Oregon today, the third day of his biggest campaign trip yet, ahead of the midterms. Where he's going and what he's talking about says a lot about how his party is approaching these upcoming elections. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with Biden and joins us now from Los Angeles. Hi, Tam.


FADEL: So you've been in Southern California with President Biden for a couple days. Before that, you were in Colorado. What has he been up to?

KEITH: He's touting administration policies and successes. In Colorado, he announced the designation of an important historic site, something that the state senator, Michael Bennet, has been pushing for. And Bennet is on the ballot in November, and he's facing a tougher-than-expected race. But Colorado is an increasingly Democratic state, and so a visit from the president could help get Democrats out to vote. Here in LA, he stopped into a taco shop with mayoral candidate Karen Bass. They also visited a big construction site where they're building a new metro line and talked about all the federal money going to that project and others.

And, you know, this is another part of the country where the Democratic president is quite welcome. But a little real talk - LA is also where Democrats come to Hoover up campaign cash from wealthy donors. So last night, Biden appeared at a fundraiser with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and it raised $5 million for congressional candidates.

FADEL: So a little more real talk - President Biden's approval ratings are underwater. You mentioned places where he's welcome, but aren't there a lot of places where a Biden visit could hurt the Democratic candidates?

KEITH: Absolutely. There are a lot of places where he isn't appearing with the Democratic candidates. Biden's on this trip out West right now. We flew over Nevada, where Senator Catherine Cortez Masto has a tough race on her hands, but Air Force One didn't make a stop. Biden's also not visiting Arizona, where Democrat Mark Kelly is trying to burnish his credentials as a moderate. And, you know, midterms are always rough for the president's party. I spoke with Lis Smith, a Democratic campaign consultant and author of "Any Given Tuesday," and she told me that Biden and his team are smart to focus on fundraising and also small-scale strategic stops where he actually can help.

LIS SMITH: The history books show that an incumbent president is not a boost to their party in their midterms. So if Jesus Christ himself were an incumbent president, members of his political party would probably stiff-arm him in a midterm election.

KEITH: Smith has informally advised Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan, who is one of those Democrats who's had some scheduling conflicts when Biden has visited his state. And she's glad, she said, that Biden isn't holding big campaign rallies in states with tight races, like former President Barack Obama did in 2010 and former President Donald Trump is doing right now.

FADEL: Later today, Biden's heading to Oregon. Isn't that a safe Democratic state?

KEITH: Well, there's a three-way race for governor, and it's giving Democrats some heartburn, and in part, that's because there's an independent candidate who's a former Democrat. So Biden is going there to deliver a message to his party, essentially to remind them that they are Democrats and that voting for an independent could split the vote and help the Republican. Biden yesterday was asked if we can expect to see him campaigning more in the coming weeks, and he said yes, but he didn't say whether that would include places like Arizona, Nevada and Georgia, where there are those more competitive Senate races.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the president. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.