Key Pa. Dems to miss Biden visit cites scheduling conflicts

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — President Joe Biden is due to address Friday in Pittsburgh as the opening step of a broader campaign to promote White House accomplishments in key states ahead of the midterm elections.

But two of the three leading Democrats in Pennsylvania’s statewide vote this spring who were invited to appear with Biden will not be taking part, their campaigns having been confirmed on the eve of the president’s visit.

According to their spokesmen, Lt. gov. John Fetterman, a leading Senate candidate, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, will be absent due to scheduling conflicts. Another Senate frontrunner, Rep. Conor Lamb, a longtime Biden supporter based in Pittsburgh, will attend, his office confirmed. All three had been invited to a photo series with the President.

The high-profile absences come as Democrats elsewhere have taken modest steps to distance themselves from the first-term president, whose approval ratings have plummeted in recent months. And while Fetterman and Shapiro said politics had no bearing on their timelines, their decisions to shun Biden, particularly in his home state, could fuel further questions among concerned Democratic candidates elsewhere as they decide whether to accept the struggling president .

“Josh Shapiro is running for governor of Pennsylvania and is focused on the issues affecting families in Pennsylvania,” said Shapiro spokesman Will Simons.

Shapiro made three appearances with Biden last summer and fall when the president’s numbers were better. But the governor hopeful has a scheduling conflict this time around, Simons said, without detailing the conflict.

“Like every American, Josh wants our President to be successful, and we will continue to welcome President Biden to his home state of Pennsylvania,” Simons said.

Leading Pennsylvania Democrats not standing for election this year have not faced the same scheduling conflicts. Among those set to perform with Biden on Friday are Gov. Tom Wolf, whose term is limited, and Senator Bob Casey, whose current term runs through 2024.

It was a different calculation for vulnerable Democrats who will face voters in 2022.

Earlier this month, Democrat Stacey Abrams of Georgia, a leading candidate for governor in another swing state, missed a chance to appear in state with the president, citing an unspecified scheduling conflict. And in the weeks since, several other notable Democrats have also appeared to distance themselves from Biden.

Last week, Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke said he doesn’t need the support of the Democratic president in his campaign for governor.

“I’m not interested in any national politician – anyone outside of Texas – coming to this state to help decide the outcome,” O’Rourke said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “I think we all want to make sure that we’re working together, listening and aligning here in Texas.”

And this week, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 3 Democrat, declined to say whether vulnerable Democrats running for election this fall should adopt the “Biden Democrat” label.

“I want every Democrat to run as a Democrat who delivers,” Hoyer told Politico when asked directly about “Biden Democrats.”

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said he wasn’t surprised that some Democratic candidates might want to distance themselves from Biden, but he said those who do are “stupid.”

“They’re stupid because things can take a pretty dramatic turn in politics,” Rendell told The Associated Press. “You can not hide. People end up thinking less of you because you didn’t show up.”

Fetterman, the outspoken lieutenant governor whose campaign headquarters are in Pittsburgh, said he will miss Biden’s visit to that city to attend the Democratic State Committee, which begins Friday night 200 miles east in Harrisburg.

“It’s great that President Biden is coming to Pittsburgh to talk about infrastructure,” Fetterman said. But he said he’ll be at the Harrisburg meeting to talk to Democrats about the midterms.

Lamb, one of Fetterman’s key main opponents in the state’s Senate marquee contest, is eager to hear Biden’s comments in person on his sweeping infrastructure bill.

“President Biden first announced his infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh, and Conor looks forward to welcoming him back and talking about all of the good jobs the law will create in the Pittsburgh area and throughout Pennsylvania,” Nassif said Murphy, Lamb’s campaign manager.

Malcolm Kenyatta, another prominent Democratic Senate contender, was not invited to Biden’s performance because he represents a different part of the state in the state legislature. But he showered the President with praise when given the opportunity. Like Lamb, Kenyatta traveled to early-voting states during the 2020 presidential primary to campaign for Biden.

“The more times he’s here, the better,” Kenyatta said. “I wouldn’t be offended to be called a Biden Democrat. I’ve always seen myself as a doer-democrat.”

The White House announced Biden’s trip Monday after the president said last week he would try to get more out of Washington in the second year of his presidency.

Biden, who has seen his poll numbers plummet amid a unrelenting pandemic and high inflation, said it’s important he “goes out and speaks to the public” about what he’s accomplished and why Congress needs to stand behind the rest its domestic political agenda.

During his stay in Pittsburgh, Biden will focus on the economy, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“He’s going to talk about how far we’ve come in getting our economy back on track, doing more here in America, and making sure all workers benefit,” Psaki told reporters at the White House Thursday. “He will highlight the 367,000 manufacturing jobs our economy has created since he took office, and he will underscore the critical role the federal government can play in bringing workers and businesses together.”

The visit will lead Biden, a native of Pennsylvania, to a key battleground in this year’s midterm congressional elections. The fight to replace Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who does not seek re-election, is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races this year.

Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said the waning enthusiasm among Democrats across the country is a worrying sign of Pennsylvania Democrats’ hopes of capturing Toomey’s seat and holding on to the governorship.

According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just 28% of Americans say they want Biden to run for re-election in 2024, including just 48% of Democrats.

Alongside Biden’s legislative backlash, Borick noted that the president’s advanced age (he’s 79) and voter uncertainty about whether he will run for a second term — despite announcing he will — are affecting the 2022 campaign.

But Borick said Biden “could have some rallying power for Democrats” if he gets some legislative wins closer to the election.

Casey said he’s urging elected Democrats to speak better about Biden’s first-year accomplishments like the infrastructure bill, vaccine distribution, raising money to keep schools open, expanding the child tax credit and the cut of unemployment.

“We have to do our job a lot better, and we’re starting to do that,” Casey said.

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Peoples reported from New York. Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington contributed to this report.

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