Downballot Republicans seize on Biden’s faltering debate performance

Republicans running for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives gleefully seized on President Biden’s stumbles in Thursday’s debate, betting they could use his performance to take down their Democratic opponents.

Many have spent months trying to tie their enemies to the president. But even as Mr. Biden trails in swing-state polls, Democratic incumbents in those states have proven resilient against their Republican challengers, sometimes leading the president by as many as ten percentage points in surveys.

Now Republicans are sensing an opening with voters, asking how Democrats can rally behind a president whose halting and grating performance on Thursday again raised questions about his age and acumen.

David McCormick, the Republican businessman who is trying to oust Senator Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, called out Mr. Casey’s support for Mr. Biden in a post on X.

“Bob Casey has said time and time again that his ‘close friend’ Joe Biden, with whom he votes 98 percent of the time, is fit to be president,” McCormick wrote. “What we all saw last night proves that Casey is lying.”

In Arizona, where Trump supporter Kari Lake is trying to prevent Rep. Ruben Gallego from taking over the seat of Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat who has become an independent and is not seeking reelection, Ms. Lake has repeatedly tried to compare Mr. Gallego to Mr. Biden. She has ridiculed him as Mr. Biden’s “mini-me” and has said he is essentially the same as Mr. Biden, only 40 years younger.

A senior adviser to Ms. Lake’s campaign, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal data, said the campaign had found that the more closely Mr. Gallego became linked to Mr. Biden, the more skeptical independent voters became of Mr. Gallego .

“Last night the entire nation witnessed how unfit Joe Biden is,” Ms. Lake said in a statement. “As more voters discover that Ruben is nothing more than an extension of Joe, they will join our movement.”

Sam Brown, an Army veteran and Republican who trails Senator Jacky Rosen in the Nevada polls even as Mr. Trump leads Mr. Biden there, wrote during the debate that “Nevadans saw firsthand what a Joe Biden/Jacky Rosen ticket will look like in November, and it is disastrous.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which handles electing Republicans to the Senate, hammered Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, for backing Mr. Biden after he was initially slow to do so.

“Tammy Baldwin is cleaning up after dodging the president’s troubling performance in last night’s debate,” said Tate Mitchell, a spokesperson for the NRSC. “The debate only sowed more doubt about his abilities as president. Why can’t Tammy Baldwin admit that?”

Friday afternoon, the group released a video with clips of several Democrats voicing their support for the president. “Democrats 2024: Don’t believe your lying eyes,” the caption read.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee played down the debate. “Senate campaigns are candidate-versus-candidate battles, and Republicans have a list of deeply flawed recruits,” David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC, said in a statement.

Jeremy Hughes, a Republican strategist covering Nevada elections, said Republicans must continue to work hard to defeat their Democratic opponents. They “must resist the urge to dance on Biden’s political grave,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to measure the curtains.”

“Of course” Mr. Biden is an obstacle for Democrats who were voted down, he said. Republicans should “pray that Joe Biden is so self-centered and narcissistic that he stays in the race,” Hughes said.

Privately, a handful of Democratic strategists in swing states expressed concerns about Biden’s record and how it might weigh on their candidates’ chances. But some hoped that the debate, with campaigns and voters having long pondered his age, wouldn’t have a major impact on the downward trend.

Conor O’Callaghan, one of the Democratic frontrunners vying to challenge Republican Rep. David Schweikert in a competitive Arizona House district, said he would support the president. But securing a Democratic majority in Congress is even more important now, he said.

“That is the only way we can support President Biden’s agenda,” Mr O’Callaghan said. “And God forbid Trump wins, we will need a Democrat-controlled Congress to keep him and Project 2025 in check.”

Others privately admitted they were deeply shaken. The concerns were particularly acute in Montana, a deep-red state where Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, is struggling to take credit for the Biden administration’s accomplishments while keeping the president himself at bay.

A Democratic strategist in Montana who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations said a dozen Democrats in the state had expressed fear that Republicans could use Biden’s missteps to nationalize the race in a way that could hurt Tester. Tester has survived past elections by leaning on his local roots.

That’s exactly what Mr. Sheehy wants to do.

“Remember this after Joe Biden’s terrible debate performance tonight, Montana – Jon Tester loves Joe Biden,” Mr. Sheehy posted on !! ”

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