Biden is on the midterm campaign trail. But he's not welcome everywhere
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As the midterms draw closer, President Biden is spending more time on the road, trying to help Democratic candidates in certain tough races but not all of them. NPR's Tamara Keith traveled with him to Colorado, California and Oregon to suss out his strategy.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: At a union hall in Portland, Ore., volunteers with the state's Democratic Party sit shoulder-to-shoulder at long tables, dialing voters on their cellphones.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Dialing earlier. Let's make those calls. We got Tina Kotek right here. She's making her call.
KEITH: They're here to help Tina Kotek, the Democrat running for governor who is facing a tough three-way race.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Hello, Oregon.
KEITH: In walks President Biden, pink-and-white donut box in hand.
BIDEN: I assume you're clapping for the donuts.
KEITH: Like many presidents before him at this point in their first term, Biden is unpopular. That means there are a lot of races where he could hurt more than he helps. But Oregon is a very blue state.
BIDEN: You know, when I was running for office - and thank you, some of you who helped me here - God, it was nice winning by 16 points, I got to admit.
KEITH: But two years later, Democrats are nervous. There's an independent candidate who could peel off enough Democratic votes to open the door for the first Republican governor of Oregon in more than a generation. At one point, Biden puts his arm around Kotek.
BIDEN: What a governor does matters. It matters. It matters. It matters. It matters.
KEITH: The next day, they were at a union training center, raising money. Then they stopped into a Baskin-Robbins for some ice cream.
BIDEN: I'm getting a double-dip chocolate chip on a waffle cone.
KEITH: Biden projected calm as he waited for his waffle cone.
BIDEN: I think she's going to win. I really do. I think people are going to show up and vote. I think it's going to work.
KEITH: This was Biden's longest campaign swing, but it was decidedly low-key. There were no rallies, just small-audience speeches about his accomplishments and a couple of fundraisers. On Friday night in Los Angeles, Biden helped raise $5 million - money that will help congressional candidates all over the country. Brendan Doherty is a politics professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
BRENDAN DOHERTY: Any president, even an unpopular president, is the most effective fundraiser in the party. So presidents, even when they're not highly sought after at campaign rallies, are always in high demand when it comes to raising much-needed campaign cash.
KEITH: There are a lot of candidates who don't want to appear side-by-side with Biden. Republicans have roundly mocked them for their remarkable ability to have scheduling conflicts whenever he's in town. But Democratic strategist Lis Smith says Biden and Democrats are being smart.
LIS SMITH: This is not Joe Biden's first rodeo. He lived through the 2010 shellacking where having Barack Obama be so visible in the midterms actually hurt Democrats. And so he's trying to learn from the mistakes of the past, put his ego in the backseat. And it's the best thing for the party as a whole.
KEITH: And there are places where it can help. At an event in Colorado, Biden made sure to give a little extra love to Senator Michael Bennet, who's running for reelection this year in a tougher-than-expected race.
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BIDEN: I want Michael to come back up here a second.
KEITH: In Los Angeles, Biden touted the infrastructure law at a construction site for a new metro line, shouting out Congresswoman Karen Bass, who's running for LA mayor. And the president delivered the core of his midterm message.
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BIDEN: We've got an election in a month. Voters have to decide. Democrats are working to bring down the cost of things to talk about around the kitchen table, from prescription drugs to health insurance to energy bills and so much more. We're standing up for working people.
KEITH: Then they stopped into a nearby taco shop for some classic retail politics.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hello. Welcome...
BIDEN: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: ...To Tacos 1986. Good. How are you?
BIDEN: Takeout order for Bass.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Bass.
KEITH: Asked if he might visit states with tougher Senate races, like Nevada and Georgia, Biden didn't get into specifics.
BIDEN: I'm going to other races. I can't tell you how many, but I'm going to be on the road.
KEITH: In the coming days, Biden will go to Pennsylvania and Florida for more fundraisers. Tamara Keith, NPR News.
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