Friday evening, just before escaping to his beloved Delaware for the weekend (his, wife, the First Lady, was in Japan for the Olympics), President Biden slipped across the Potomac River into Virginia. Here, he headlined a campaign rally for Terry McAuliffe, who is running for governor. The election is in November.
Biden keeps learning – and applying – some critical lessons from when he was in the White House 12 years ago, serving as Vice President for Barack Obama. Their first year in office was dramatic, exhilarating, dynamic – and very challenging.
America (and the rest of the world) was reeling from the Global Financial Crisis. Obama and Biden won a key early victory in passing a massive economic recovery program. Obama proposed landmark universal access to health insurance – it would ultimately become Obamacare – and comprehensive energy and climate legislation to tackle global warming.
Biden learns lessons from the Obama era
In 2009, it was also an election year for two governorships, in Virginia and New Jersey. By that November, Obamacare was still tied up in bipartisan negotiations in the Senate; it would not enact it for another 5 months. The energy and climate bill passed the House but would ultimately die in the Senate.
The economic recovery was underway, but jobs gains across the country were very slow to lock in. That August, “Tea Party” activists held raucous protest rallies against Obama’s health care proposals across the country. By that November, the political mood was quitter uncertain.
In this odd-numbered year, 12 months after the presidential election, voters in Virginia and New Jersey hold their state elections. And like by-elections in Australia, citizens can read them as a referendum on how the party that controls the White House is doing. And November 2009 was bad news for Obama, Biden, and the Democrats. Republicans won both governorships. And it was a shock.
Lesson #1: go big and go fast
The pundits were in overdrive that night, saying, Democrats in big trouble! Obama took it on the nose! Too much change we cannot believe in! And this was critical because the centrist independent voters in New Jersey and Virginia voted for the Republicans. Obama won those independents only a year before.
Biden keeps applying the lessons he learned from those days. First, go big and go early and go fast. He passed the pandemic response and vaccination program within his first 50 days in office together with the $2 trillion economic recovery initiative – more than twice as large as Obama’s in 2009.
Second, don’t focus on futile negotiations in the Senate. Pending in the Senate right now is another $4 trillion on infrastructure, health care, education, climate, childcare, and other priorities. The make-or-break moment to move on it is coming now – not after November.
A double-header victory remains on the cards
So Joe Biden was in Virginia on Friday to help his good friend Terry McAuliffe win his election against a Trump-endorsed candidate – and he will do the same in New Jersey to support the popular Democrat running for re-election there. A double-header victory would signal to the country that voters support the Biden agenda.
As the Washington Post reported last week:
“Among the questions Biden is confronting are whether the Trump base will turn out when the former president is not on the ballot, whether Biden’s ambitious economic plans will be seen as a boon or a driver of rising prices and whether voters will continue to give the president high marks for his handling of the pandemic.”
Biden has zero intention of letting anyone stop his momentum in Virginia this year.