GOP seizes on Biden debate fallout to batter vulnerable Democrats

Republicans are seizing on President Biden’s disastrous debate performance last week by tying their Democratic counterparts to the fallout.

Over the weekend, the Senate Republicans’ rolled out a video of Senate Democratic incumbents and candidates running in competitive races saying before the debate they were confident in Biden’s mental agility. Their comments were juxtaposed with footage of Biden stumbling at the debate itself.

At the House level, the GOP’s campaign arm rolled out an ad less than 24 hours after the debate featuring House Democrats praising Biden and his acuity before the debate. And further down the ballot, the Republican State Leadership Committee rolled out a list of questions to ask state-level Democratic candidates regarding Biden’s debate performance.

Republicans say the disarray among Democrats is a political gift to the GOP roughly two weeks before their nominating convention as the party has gradually coalesced around Trump.

“You are going to ride Donald Trump’s coattails and his messaging to your benefit because chances are at the end of the day, your race is being drowned out by what’s going on in the White House race,” said Ford O’Connell, a national Republican strategist. “The chance of you being able to get your message out without tying your opponent to Biden, it’s going to be hard to give a lot of oxygen given everything that is going on.”

Post-debate polls show that voters are concerned about Biden’s mental strength and his ability to perform as president. A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll conducted June 28-30 found that 66 percent of respondents said they “have doubts” about Biden’s “fitness,” an increase from 54 percent in May. The poll also found that only 34 percent said he is “mentally fit,” and 74 percent said Biden is “showing he is too old” to be president.

Republicans say they are taking advantage of the concerns, hoping they become a key issue for voters down the ballot.

“Before it was crime, border, economy,” said one House Republican strategist. “Now it’s crime, border, economy and fitness for office.”

Republicans say they plan to paint their Democratic counterparts up and down the ballot as ignoring warning signs regarding Biden’s age ahead of the debate and accusing them of trying to mask concerns over the president’s age.

“The only explanation now is either they were lying or they don’t talk as much to the president as much as they say they do,” said another GOP strategist. “It’s a hard way out.”

The strategist pointed specifically to Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.), both of whom are facing competitive reelection bids. In the NRSC’s compilation video, Tester says Biden is “100 percent with it” and Casey says there is “no question” Biden is prepared to do the job “today” and “would be if reelected.”

The video also hits Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), along with Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Colin Alred (D-Texas) and Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), all of whom are running for Senate seats in their respective states.

Still, a number of vulnerable Senate Democrats have rallied around Biden. Meanwhile, the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm is brushing aside concerns that this could hurt them downballot, pointing to the strength of their own candidates and what they say are weak Republican candidates.

“As we’ve always said, Senate campaigns are candidate-vs.-candidate battles and Republicans have a roster of deeply flawed recruits — we’ll win because we have the better candidates,” said David Bergstein, the communications director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee echoed the same sentiment in a separate statement to The Hill.

“House races have always been about the strength of our candidates, combined with the fact that Democrats deliver when in charge while extreme Republicans sow chaos,” said Viet Shelton, a DCCC spokesperson. “It’s why recent polling has been showing Democrats outrunning their Republican opponents across the battleground. That hasn’t changed after the debate.”

While Republicans are throwing cold water on the idea of split-ticket voting, Democrats point to polling that shows some Senate Democrats running ahead of Biden in their own states.

Senate races have presented a unique scenario for Democrats and Republicans going into November, with many Senate Democratic incumbents polling ahead of Biden. According to the latest polling average from The Hill and Decision Desk HQ, Senate Democratic candidates and incumbents are outperforming Biden in Arizona, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Democrats also point out that Trump presents his own issues for candidates running down ballot, pointing specifically to his guilty verdict in the New York City hush money case.

“If I’m in the Republican Party, I would not take my t-shirt off just yet to celebrate in victory when they have a convicted felon who is a political liability to their party,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist.

Additionally, Democrats point to how post-debate polling so far shows the horserace between Biden and Trump unchanged and question the impact Biden’s debate performance itself could have on down ballot Democrats.

The same Harvard CAPS-Harris poll showed Trump’s lead over Biden virtually unchanged from last month.

“We haven’t seen polling that indicates this moved anybody toward Republicans,” said one Democratic operative. “The biggest issues that face us today, like preserving our democracy, like preserving a woman’s right to choose, those are the issues that matter. Those are some of the motivating issues that other campaigns are going to run on.”

“Democrats win in 2022, we won in 2023, we’ve won every special election. There’s a reason why,” the operative continued. “Whether or not our president is on the ballot, Democrats are winning.”

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