Joseph R. Biden is hitching his political fortunes to Democratic governors from battleground states as he looks to resurrect the “blue wall” that served as the party’s backbone for six presidential elections before President Trump demolished it in 2016.
Mr. Biden is betting the lovefest with the governors on the front lines of the coronavirus response in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconson will pay off even as they face stiffening scrutiny from Mr. Trump, his allies and even some in-state Democrats over the pace of their reopening plans.
The former vice president says Democratic governors have filled the leadership void left by Mr. Trump’s slow and muddled response to the pandemic.
“I think the federal government has failed to respond,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday during a virtual call with Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania. “It didn’t have to be this bad, and as a governor, you and your colleagues are leading.”
Mr. Biden said Mr. Wolf has been right to err on the side of caution and that the people turning out for the reopen rallies at state Capitols across the country — including Harrisburg, Madison and Lansing — are outliers.
“You know all this talk with these folks walking around with rifles — and the president not condemning it, I might add — doesn’t apparently represent the majority of the American people,” he said. “They want to know they are safe.”
Polls show Mr. Wolf has a higher approval rating than Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania when asked about responses to the coronavirus.
The story is similar in Michigan and Wisconsin, where Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer and Tony Evers garner higher marks than the president.
Mr. Trump said this week that the White House deserves credit for their popularity.
“We made most Governors look very good, even great, by getting them the Ventilators, unlimited Testing, and supplies, all of which they should have had in their own stockpiles,” Mr. Trump said. “So they look great, and I just keep rolling along, doing great things and getting Fake Lamestream News!”
Charlie Gerow, a Pennsylvania-based Republican Party strategist, said the polls have failed to capture the intensity of voters’ anger over the length of the lockdowns.
Public opinion could swing as more voters come to grips with the full scope of what the lockdowns have done to their wallets and local economies.
“The bottom line is people are pissed,” Mr. Gerow said. “The folks who are showing up at these rallies — many of whom are not carrying guns — represent the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians, Michiganders and Wisconsinites and represent the salt of the earth and heart and soul of America.
“These are regular folks who want to go back to work,” he said. “Joe Biden hitching his wagon to Tom Wolf doesn’t help him one little bit.”
Mr. Gerow said Mr. Biden’s problems in Pennsylvania are compounded by his decision to tap Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York for a climate change task force and by his vow to ban more fracking.
“That goes over like a fart in church,” he said.
Mr. Trump became the first Republican to carry Michigan and Pennsylvania since 1988 and to win Wisconsin since 1984. He won the three states by fewer than 80,000 votes combined.
Two years later, Mr. Wolf won reelection by nearly 835,000 votes in Pennsylvania, while Mr. Evers pulled out a 29,000-vote win. In 2019, Ms. Whitmer won her race by 403,000 votes.
Mr. Biden could try to boost his chances in Michigan by tapping Ms. Whitmer as his running mate.
David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, said conventional political wisdom might be driving what is shaping up to be a base-turnout election.
He finds it hard to believe that a Democrat who is undecided about Mr. Biden would vote for him because he tapped someone like Ms. Whitmer.
“They are going to vote for him because they can’t stand Trump,” Mr. Dulio said.
The potential pitfalls of getting too close to governors were on display this week. Ms. Whitmer’s husband came under fire for dropping her name when he pleaded with a business to get his boat into the water over Memorial Day weekend after his wife urged people to stay away from popular vacation spots.
Republicans say it is part of a broader “do as I say, not as I do” trend that Democrats have showcased during the crisis.
Mr. Dulio said the presidential election could turn more on how the economy recovers from the pandemic than on the raging debate over whether Mr. Trump is to blame for the fallout.
“It is a tough argument for Joe Biden to make that if he had been in office it would have been a shallower dip,” he said of the sinking economy. “I don’t think people buy that. I think it is all about the recovery and how steep and gradual that is.”
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