Biden is ready to turn the page on a showdown with Trump. His road to re-election will not be easy

(CNN) — President Joe Biden officially turned the page on the general election on Wednesday, facing a race against former President Donald Trump that will test his ability to revive key aspects of his winning coalition in the race. .

The campaign believes the New Hampshire primary results were enough to suggest Trump will be the Republican nominee. Just as a challenger seemed to have become clear, the challenges to Biden’s efforts and re-calling the crucial voting blocs that helped propel him into office became clear.

Biden’s road to victory will not be easy. His campaign advisers readily admit that this year’s race will be extremely close and say their efforts will accelerate in the coming weeks. He faces a party that, according to the polls, will choose a different candidate. And divisions within their coalition, largely over the war in Gaza, have become increasingly visible to the public.

On Tuesday, those rifts were on vivid display during a speech in Virginia on abortion rights, which would otherwise be a galvanizing issue for Democrats. Biden was interrupted more than a dozen times by people protesting the war in Gaza, who were eventually overwhelmed by supporters cheering for Biden. Hours later, he was predicted to win the New Hampshire primary even though his name was not on the ballot.

On Wednesday, he won a key endorsement from the United Auto Workers, which initially avoided endorsing Biden amid concerns about his push toward electric vehicles. The endorsement followed Biden’s appeal to union members and working-class voters, including a visit to the UAW picket line last year. The announcement may have its biggest impact in Michigan, where Biden won by 3 points in 2020.

And this Thursday, a pair of events will aim to strengthen Biden’s position on economic issues, which have proven frustratingly difficult for the president to gain momentum over the past year. He will travel to battleground Wisconsin to tout infrastructure investments, while his Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, will make a rare contrast with Trump in a keynote address.

The series of commitments underscores the opportunities and challenges facing Biden as he enters the race against an opponent he has openly described as a threat to democracy, but some polls show him with a small lead nationally.

As the campaign begins in earnest, the president’s team says they are ready for battle.

“In politics, you run like you’re down when you win or lose,” Biden campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond said Wednesday. “Let’s run like we’re behind.”

Biden’s advisers were eager for a one-on-one contest with Trump, believing it easier to argue for his election once he has secured the nomination.

They saw Trump’s complaint-filled speech on Tuesday night — in which he complained about Nikki Haley’s decision to stay in the race and insulted her choice of dress — as the perfect example of the split screen they hope will unfold. Repeatedly in the coming months, as the former president vows to wage a campaign of retaliation. Campaign officials also analyzed results from Iowa and New Hampshire, which found signs of unrest among independents about Trump and a lack of enthusiasm among some Republicans.

“They’re struggling to make themselves acceptable to these key voters who will ultimately decide the November election,” said deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks.

Deep divisions in Biden’s Gaza coalition

Biden faces a similar problem with some factions of Democrats who remain angry over his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Protesters at Tuesday’s event in northern Virginia chanted “Genocide Joe” and displayed Palestinian flags, reflecting unease among some progressives about the president’s handling of the conflict. It has now become routine for Biden’s public events to be interrupted by similar protests (including one where he accepted the UAW’s endorsement on Wednesday), though the number of protesters at the abortion speech was higher than previously seen.

Last year, Biden met with Arab-American leaders at the White House, who asked him to support a ceasefire in Gaza. His advisers say he views the Gaza war not from a political perspective, but as a commander in chief.

This Wednesday he had a “very respectful conversation” with members of the UAW who raised the Gaza issue, according to Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., who said Biden and his fellow Democrats have to grapple with the issue.

“I know he knows how to talk to people. It is an issue that we have to talk about and address. That would be a reversal and we need to remind people of the facts,” he said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jack Taper,” referring to Trump’s promise to reinstate the entry ban on people from Muslim-majority countries.

Dingell said Biden will ultimately help his fellow Democrats, including in Michigan. But he said there is still a long way to go.

“I think in the end, President Biden will help people win. “We have to roll up our sleeves, we have to work long and hard, we have to educate people about what the problems are,” he said. “There’s a lot of time between now and November.”

Democratic nervousness about Biden’s re-election prospects has simmered for months, leading to anxious conversations among party leaders and donors about the strength and structure of his campaign heading into the general election.

That’s part of what influenced the decision announced Tuesday to move two key advisers from the West Wing of the White House to the Biden campaign. Jane O’Malley Dillon and Mike Donilon had long been expected to play crucial roles in Biden’s re-election bid, regardless of where they sat, and the moves were not surprising. But there was growing concern among strategists and donors that the president’s political power was concentrated in the White House and not his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware.

“A lot of people, Democratic operatives and so on, will say these are really good steps. This is going to be a really tough campaign. And it’s hard to do two jobs at once,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama and a CNN senior political analyst. “They need your 100% presence in that campaign and interacting with different elements of the campaign.”

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Top Democrats expressed that many of Biden’s accomplishments, including new infrastructure and manufacturing laws, student debt relief and Covid-19 relief, have yet to trickle down to voters, leading to declining approval ratings and voter dissatisfaction.

“All these elements create legislative breakthroughs unmatched by anything else. You have to go back to Lyndon Johnson to find anything like that,” South Carolina Rep. said Jim Clyburn, a top Biden ally whose support helped revive Biden’s 2020 primary bid. is great.”

Biden’s allies see signs of imminent change. Consumer confidence is improving, inflation is falling and wages are rising, all fueling optimism in the West Wing and at campaign headquarters that Americans’ views on the economy may soon reach a benchmark they’ve long held. Time has been a positive trend. .

It remains to be seen how the President will be able to influence the American economy. After months of travel, policy announcements and campaign ads, voters still have a negative perception of Biden’s handling of the economy: Fewer than a third of voters say they approve of his approach.

Biden has privately expressed frustration that some of the structural reforms he has been trying to sell voters have been slow to materialize.

But one thing Biden’s teams believe will help focus their arguments is a clear race between Biden and Trump. Trump’s emergence as the presumptive Republican nominee has given Biden’s campaign team confidence that once voters see the choice before them, they will recall the tumult and division that led to Trump’s defeat in 2020.

Like all incumbents, Biden sometimes struggled to break out of the White House bubble. The final months of 2023 are consumed by Israel’s war against Hamas. At one point, Biden told fellow Democrats that he spends 75% of his time dealing with foreign affairs.

The president’s team is experimenting with new ways to use their time. In addition to podium speeches about his policies, he has begun promoting his retail policy, visiting smoothie stands and coffee shops to meet people in more intimate settings.

He will campaign in South Carolina this weekend ahead of the state’s primary, the first official contest in the DNC primary process. Democratic races will continue in Nevada and Michigan.

With his name on the ballot for the first time this election season, those states will provide early clues about Biden’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of the tough road ahead.

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