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Republicans See the Democratic Crisis as a GOP Opportunity Down-Ballot

“That event on Thursday, it’s not going to go away,” Rep. Don Bacon told NOTUS.

Mike Johnson
Speaker Mike Johnson speaks at the Capitol. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

As President Joe Biden scrambles to maintain his position as the Democratic nominee, Republicans are licking their lips.

GOP lawmakers and strategists see an opportunity in the Democratic Party’s crisis — not only to reclaim the White House but also to win both chambers of Congress.

Republican Senate candidates in blue states are feeling more confident this week, according to two campaign insiders, and they’ve already blitzed the airwaves with talking points about Biden’s age.

They’re not letting up, either.

The only hope for Democrats to hold the Senate is “unprecedented levels of ticket-splitting in states Trump will win,” one Republican Senate campaign strategist argued in a text message to NOTUS, specifically mentioning states like Montana and Ohio. “The more the race becomes a referendum on Biden, the worse for Dems.”

Jack Pandol, a spokesperson for the House GOP’s campaign arm, was also optimistic, telling NOTUS the party is “more confident than ever that we will grow the House majority.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee is making no secret of its strategy to focus on Biden’s age, complete with a pithy tagline: “Feeble over people.”

“Our country is in a moment of genuine crisis. Our adversaries are paying close attention,” Pandol wrote in a memo this week, promising Republicans will hound vulnerable House Democrats over Biden’s cognitive state. “Voters are alarmed and no longer have faith in Joe Biden’s fitness for office.”

For their part, a spokesperson for the campaign arm of House Democrats, Viet Shelton told NOTUS that, “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.”

“It’s why recent polling has been showing Democrats outrunning their Republican opponents across the battleground,” Shelton said. “That hasn’t changed after the debate.”

But Republican strategists are so enthusiastic about being able to focus on Biden’s age that they are preparing to actively fight any attempt by Democrats to replace him on the ballot.

“It helps all the Republican swing districts,” acknowledged Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican who represents a district Biden won by 6 points in 2020. But, he said in an interview with NOTUS on Wednesday, “it’s sad for our country.”

“We have a guy that’s sitting in the White House right now that I don’t think is up to the job,” Bacon said.

Biden’s disastrous debate performance has already changed how Republicans like Bacon are messaging on the campaign trail.

“You can’t ignore the debate,” Bacon said. “I spoke last night in front of a Republican crowd, and I just said, you know, our odds of winning the White House went up.”

Bacon also pointed to polling that showed Biden down in his district, adding that the president’s performance almost certainly increases the odds that Republicans pick up more seats in the House and Senate.

New York Rep. Mike Lawler told NOTUS Democrats were in “total disarray after ignoring the obvious for months.”

“It’s no surprise that they’re scrambling now, realizing the top of their ticket is sinking their chances in dozens of critical races across the country,” he said.

Another New York Republican, Rep. Marc Molinaro, who also represents a swing district, was likewise quick to incorporate the debate into his campaign messaging. He said Americans “saw what we all knew.”

“The president isn’t up to serving another four years,” Molinaro told NOTUS. “And, despite the shock displayed by some, the cover-up and denial is equally troubling. Most people I serve want new leadership in the White House.”

“Obviously,” said another swing-district House Republican, who asked to speak anonymously, “we’re all celebrating this.”

The debate, this member added, “was sad and scary for us as citizens. But I guess we felt like, for us politically, it was great.”

Those dynamics are clear to Democrats too. They’re worried Biden’s debate performance will hurt them in down-ballot races while also installing Trump back in the White House.

Democratic Reps. Jared Golden and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez both predicted on Tuesday that Trump will win.

Other Democratic lawmakers are trying to ramp up pressure on Biden to drop out, with the understanding that his presence at the top of the ticket will hurt Democrats.

“The frontliners especially seem apoplectic,” one Democratic lawmaker told NOTUS on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the feeling among members.

This lawmaker said they had spoken to a number of colleagues. And Democratic members, privately, overwhelmingly feel Biden will damage the party down-ballot.

“I’m not hearing anybody defending Joe. Nobody,” this lawmaker said.

Asked if there’s a widespread belief that Biden needs to step down, this member was clear: “Every colleague I talk to.”

Some Democrats are now openly calling for Biden to make way for a new candidate. On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas publicly urged Biden to end his reelection campaign.

“Recognizing that, unlike Trump, President Biden’s first commitment has always been to our country, not himself, I am hopeful that he will make the painful and difficult decision to withdraw,” Doggett wrote. “I respectfully call on him to do so.”

Bloomberg also reported on Wednesday that dozens of House Democrats, alarmed by the possibility of losing control of Congress, are working on a letter demanding Biden withdraw.

But even if they manage to choose a new candidate, Biden’s debate performance isn’t going to be wiped from voters’ minds.

“We have a long way to go to November,” Bacon said, “but that event on Thursday, it’s not going to go away.”

Haley Byrd Wilt and Reese Gorman are reporters at NOTUS.