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Biden kicks off midterm campaigning, promotes Democratic wins

In Maryland, the president lifted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore while highlighting recent party victories

The Bowie High School marching band performs at a Democratic National Committee rally featuring President Biden at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Md., on Aug. 25. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
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President Biden launched his midterm push Thursday in deep-blue Maryland, with a rally promoting the administration’s recent policy wins as he begins selling his agenda to voters ahead of the high-stakes November election.

“We must take our case to the American people and be crystal clear about it. There’s no question it’s been a few hard years,” Biden said, going on to herald student loan relief, lower gas prices, the Inflation Reduction Act and increased corporate taxes, among Democratic wins notched this summer.

In a Rockville high school gym less than a half-hour from the White House — in a state where Democrats have a built-in registration advantage — the president shared the stage with the party’s nominee for Maryland governor, Wes Moore, who faces Dan Cox, a Republican endorsed by former president Donald Trump.

The Maryland contest sketches the contrasts Democrats hope to highlight in midterms across the country — touting their policy ideas as inclusive and uplifting, and warning what Republicans would do to Democratic priorities if they gained power.

“We’re in a serious moment in our nation’s history,” Biden said, urging Democrats, independents and conservative Republicans to join him in “saving” the country by voting in November.

“I respect conservative Republicans. I don’t respect these MAGA Republicans,” he said.

Biden’s approval ratings have climbed from historic lows as he secured long-sought policy wins popular with Democratic voters, including climate legislation and caps on prescription drug prices. A Gallup poll released Tuesday showed his approval rating at 44 percent — a larger jump than other polls and the highest rating this year, but still showing the president without a majority’s approval.

White House aides have said Biden will travel the country to draw attention to the most popular measures in the Inflation Reduction Act, and the White House has plans for Biden to “showcase his accomplishments.”

The tour comes as many Democrats haven’t embraced Biden as their chief surrogate. The political head winds that normally disfavor the president’s party in midterms were heightened by record inflation. Biden joked about his tenuous popularity potentially dragging down candidates Thursday, saying he told his friend Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) that he would “campaign for or against him, whatever helped.”

Democrats are hoping losses don’t transfer control of the House or Senate to Republicans. Biden warned that could bring abortion restrictions nationwide — which he vowed to veto — or an annual reconsideration of Social Security and Medicare programs, citing recent comments by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

As Biden turns toward midterms, he may not be the top surrogate

About 3,600 people gathered at the Democratic National Committee-organized rally at Richard Montgomery High School, deep in Maryland’s largest Democratic stronghold, to hear Biden, Moore and a roster of Maryland’s highest-profile Democrats: House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer; Rep. Jamie B. Raskin; Sen. Ben Cardin; Moore’s running mate, Aruna Miller; and comptroller candidate Brooke Lierman.

Moore remained onstage alongside the president, applauding as Biden occasionally embraced his shoulder.

Moore used his speech introducing Biden to detail a personal rise from a troubled teen with a single mother to a Rhodes scholar, military veteran and nominee for governor, which he credited “to a community who didn’t leave me behind.”

He broadly promised to invest in education, including apprenticeship programs, free preschool who those who need it and community colleges, and to use his experience as a business owner to bolster the state’s economy, particularly among minority-owned businesses.

Moore, who is Black, noted that Maryland incarcerates young Black men at a higher rate than any other state and vowed to change that. He would be the state’s first Black governor if elected.

Although the governor’s mansion has been in Republican hands for eight years, Moore is heavily favored to win in November. Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, and Cox’s close ties to Trump could prove to be an anchor, given Trump lost Maryland to Biden by 33 percentage points in 2020. But Moore cautioned against complacency.

Moore said that since his primary win, people have told him, “Isn’t it great that you have to go up against Dan Cox?”

“My answer is clear and consistent: Do not underestimate what we’re up against,” he said. “It is not ‘great’ that in November we are facing an election denier.”

Cox has called the 2020 election “stolen” and said he traveled to Pennsylvania to work on decertifying the vote. After the primary, he deleted references to that work from his campaign website.

The Cox campaign scheduled, then canceled, a “Freedom Rally” outside the DNC event.

In a statement released Tuesday, Cox accused Moore of avoiding debates with him and criticized Biden’s new plan for student debt relief, a $300 billion proposal that would cancel as much as $20,000 in federal student loan debt for millions of borrowers.

“I will win this November and vigorously serve the people of Maryland as governor because the failed policies of the Biden Administration which Wes Moore is praising, advancing and will implement are disastrous for Maryland,” Cox said in a statement.

He later added, “And working Marylanders as a whole will end up paying for something they never had nor can they afford — someone else’s college degree.”

Cox’s position on student loan debt offered a rare moment of unity with term-limited Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has questioned if Cox is “mentally stable” and refused to support him.

Hogan tweeted Monday that it would cause “skyrocketing inflation. This is a really bad idea at the worst possible time.”

Biden told the crowd that if they wanted to know what to think of Cox, they should look no further than comments from the Republican leader of Maryland: Hogan.

Outside the school, a line of several hundred people waiting to get inside stretched for more than a block, with several hundred more crowded near the security entrance. Men in black union T-shirts enjoyed icees as Pharrell’s “Happy” played from loudspeakers.

Juliane Caviston, 48, was feeling upbeat about Biden’s cancellation of student loan debt. She didn’t know much about Moore — “he probably doesn’t have a whole lot of government experience,” she said — but isn’t worried about his chances in a deep-blue state.

Caviston said she is more concerned that the Democratic Party is losing touch with its liberal values amid the constant battles over the 2020 presidential election and false claims over a host of issues made by Trump supporters, including Cox.

“Don’t forget about our trans kids, don’t forget about gender equality, don’t forget about freaking abortion,” she said.

Linda Lacey, 73, was excited to see the large turnout, mainly because her 14-year-old granddaughter, who starts at the high school Monday, was playing piccolo in the band before Biden spoke. A retired professor of city and regional planning, Lacey, a Democrat, likes Hogan — particularly a 90-day suspension of the gas tax he championed — and is concerned that Cox represents a dark turn in the state.

“I’m hoping that people will come to their senses,” she said.