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Even CNN sees - Opinion: Biden is in trouble

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Nov 11, 2023, 2:16:00 PM11/11/23

Opinion: Biden is in trouble
Julian Zelizer
Opinion by Julian Zelizer, CNN
5 minute read
Published 12:18 PM EST, Fri November 10, 2023

CNN Poll: Trump narrowly leads Biden in rematch
06:11 - Source: CNN
Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor
of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author
and editor of 25 books, including The New York Times bestseller “Myth
America: Historians Take on the Biggest Lies and Legends About Our Past”
(Basic Books). The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View
more opinion on CNN.


Although Election Day on Tuesday was good for Democrats, they should not
take much comfort in those positive results heading into 2024.

Democrats are feeling hopeful after big wins in Virginia, Ohio and
Kentucky. Although President Joe Biden might not be as popular as they’d
like, and doubts about Vice President Kamala Harris are likely to
persist, the election on Tuesday seemed to suggest that an issues-based
campaign might be enough to turn swing states blue in 2024.

The theory is that, by focusing on reproductive rights, as well as other
issues that have strong national support, such as fighting climate
change, the Biden campaign will be able to overcome the challenge posed
by the president’s low approval rating. Some have pointed to President
George W. Bush’s reelection victory in 2004 over Massachusetts Sen. John
Kerry as one notable precedent, a case of Republicans successfully
focusing on ballot initiatives to boost turnout and win over voters.

But the election results on Tuesday may not provide as clear a path
forward as some Democrats think. While much was made about the
Republican push for ballot initiatives banning same sex marriage in
2004, an issue the GOP hoped would increase turnout by its base, some
scholars and journalists have found little evidence that it actually
gained votes for Bush.

RIVERSIDE, CA - NOVEMBER 11, 2020: American flags blow in the wind at
the gravesites of Vietnam and World War I and II vets on Veterans Day at
Riverside National Cemetery on November 11, 2020 in Riverside,
California.(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Opinion: Combine Election Day with Veterans Day and give democracy a boost
Moreover, Bush had much more wind at his back, given the aftermath of
the 9/11 attacks and the continued perception in large parts of the
nation that his counterterrorism programs were effective. While the
fallout from the disastrous war in Iraq was already showing up, it did
not yet dominate public perceptions of his performance, and some of the
biggest disasters of his presidency, including his response to Hurricane
Katrina, would not take place until after his reelection.

In November 2003, one year before the election, Bush’s approval ratings
were solid, at over 50%. And even though it was a sharp fall from the
70% he enjoyed in April of that year, Bush managed to stabilize his
standing. By the time November 2004 rolled around, he maintained a 53%
approval rating — well above Biden’s 37% as of early October.

Like it or not, personality, charisma and perceptions of character still
matter in presidential elections. Bush and his supporters waged a brutal
campaign against Kerry, portraying him as a coastal elite, blue state
politician who flip-flopped depending on whichever stance seemed most
popular. One famous ad showed Kerry wind surfing to the left and right,
“whichever way the wind blows.”

Another ad by an independent group called the Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth challenged Kerry’s record of service on a Swift boat during the
Vietnam War and raised questions about the medals that he was awarded
for his military service, giving rise to the phrase “swiftboating” as a
way to describe unfair or dishonest political attacks. The campaign
managed to turn Bush, who joined the Texas Air National Guard — whose
main mission was to defend the Gulf Coast — rather than the US Air Force
during the Vietnam War, into a paragon of patriotic, firm decision
making while rendering Kerry as someone who could not be counted on to
make tough calls in the toughest of times.

Gov. Andy Beshear waves with wife Britainy Beshear, right and Lt. Gov.
Jacqueline Coleman, at left, after winning a second term as Kentucky's
Governor Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
Opinion: Tuesday’s elections were disappointing for Republicans. That
doesn’t mean 2024 will be
The current conservative media ecosystem — from Fox News to Truth Social
— makes the kind of disinformation that was novel during the 2004
campaign seem like small potatoes, and it will be all the more
challenging to convey accurate information in the 2024 contest.

There are also serious questions being raised about whether abortion
rights are as motivating for voters as some Democrats think. The New
York Times columnist David Leonhardt points to a number of recent
elections where Democrats lost despite focusing on this issue. Tim Ryan,
the Democratic Senate candidate for Ohio in 2022, for example, lost to
J.D. Vance, even though he centered his campaign on abortion. Leonhardt
pointed out that Americans broadly support widespread access to abortion
— and the issue has been largely successful for Democrats when it is the
sole focus of a ballot initiative. But when it comes to a national
election featuring two candidates, abortion may just be one of many
issues, with differing political impacts, he argued.

Even if Biden can get a bump from voters who are passionate about
defending abortion rights, polling also shows that core constituencies,
such as Black and Latino voters, are having serious doubts about him. A
number of Muslim and Arab voters in key states like Michigan have also
voiced their dismay over Biden’s strong backing of Israel in its war
with Hamas, though the lasting effect isn’t yet clear.

Finally, a new poll this week should sound the alarm for Democrats.
According to a New York Times/Siena College poll, former President
Donald Trump is currently ahead of Biden in five out of six battleground
states. With key voters saying they trust Trump more on issues including
immigration, the economy and national security, Biden could be in
serious trouble in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
While White House officials pushed back against the findings, many
Democrats have been thrown into a state of panic. Regardless of what
happens, the poll hammered home the very real possibility of a second
Trump presidency.

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And while Americans have a number of concerns about Biden, from his age
to his ability to handle the job, none of this is to say that he is
doomed. Plenty of other candidates have overcome negative polling with a
year go before the election. Trump also comes with his own baggage,
including the unprecedented possibility that, as a former president, he
might be convicted of federal crimes — something that the recent polls
show would hurt him significantly. And Trump is, of course, unpopular in
his own right, with a huge dash of unpredictability thrown in — meaning
that polls can fluctuate dramatically as the year unfolds.

But the road to victory will not be easy or smooth. This is probably
going to be a tight election and the outcome will depend on turnout,
mobilization, and shoring up Biden’s image as much as possible. The way
that the president handles the challenges of the coming months will have
a huge effect on determining who wins the Oval Office in 2024.

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