Biden’s sagging approval could haunt Georgia Democrats

Democrats are concerned that slipping approval ratings for President Joe Biden, shown speaking earlier this month at the Atlanta University Center, could hurt their chances in November's elections, including races for governor and the U.S. Senate. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released this past week shows the president's approval rating at 34%, down from 51% in May. (Doug Mills/ New York Times)

Democrats are concerned that slipping approval ratings for President Joe Biden, shown speaking earlier this month at the Atlanta University Center, could hurt their chances in November's elections, including races for governor and the U.S. Senate. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released this past week shows the president's approval rating at 34%, down from 51% in May. (Doug Mills/ New York Times)

President Joe Biden’s honeymoon in Georgia is over, and that could have disastrous implications for Democrats scrambling to hang on to a U.S. Senate seat and win the governor’s race for the first time in almost a quarter century.

The tenuous coalition of independent voters, former Republicans in the suburbs and Black Georgians who fueled Biden’s flip of the state in 2020 is under duress as high inflation, legislative gridlock and frustration with his policies take a toll.

Couple that with backlash from liberals upset at the grinding pace of his legislative agenda — some voting rights groups were so upset they boycotted his visit to Atlanta this month — and the president’s waning popularity poses a threat to state candidates.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released this week punctuated that possibility. Biden’s approval rating among registered voters plummeted from 51% in May to 34% this month. Nearly two-thirds of Georgians now disapprove of his performance.

Embedded in the poll are signs his alliance is fraying. His support among Democrats and independents fell sharply, while his disapproval rating among Black voters — the backbone of the party in Georgia — has more than quadrupled since May.

Just as concerning for Democrats was the gloomy mood on the economy. Nearly three of four Georgians feel the nation is headed down the wrong track, and almost 80% say inflation is having a significant or notable impact on their day-to-day lives.

“Joe Biden is the 30,000-pound anchor in a bottomless pit of failure right now for Democrats in Georgia,” said GOP operative Stephen Lawson, who advises a super PAC that has relentlessly tied U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock to Biden.

Republicans, of course, have their own problems that Democrats can exploit. Gov. Brian Kemp is facing a tough GOP challenge from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue that’s split the party and shifted the focus toward internal warfare and away from defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams.

Herschel Walker, the former football star and GOP front-runner for the U.S. Senate, is an untested political candidate already dogged by his past. And Georgia voters are increasingly fed up with former President Donald Trump’s attempt to sway the state’s elections, even if many still believe his false narrative about a “rigged” vote.

Yet capitalizing on that Republican rift will be difficult. The AJC poll showed leading Republicans in a strong position against Abrams in her second run for governor and Warnock, who is standing for a full six-year term in November.

Conservative voters are showing signs of unifying behind Walker, who has a commanding lead over GOP rivals in public polls and fundraising in a race to unseat Warnock that could decide control of the U.S. Senate.

And looming in the background is a standing principle in American politics that the president’s party usually loses ground in midterm elections, though there are plenty of exceptions to the so-called “curse.”

Promises made

But Democrats are determined to turn the president into an asset. Unlike past election cycles, when leading party figures often found reasons to avoid a Democratic president’s visits to Georgia, statewide candidates are inextricably tying themselves to the White House.

“There’s no way they’ll distance themselves from him,” said DuBose Porter, the former chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “The programs that Biden put forth are the programs Georgians need badly, and Abrams and Warnock are no the forefront of fighting for them.”

To that point, just about every prominent Georgia Democratic official attended Biden’s voting rights speech in Atlanta earlier this month. The glaring exception was Abrams, who cited an unspecified “commitment she could not break” but released a glowing statement about Biden.

Many of those Democrats sound like state Rep. Matthew Wilson, a candidate for insurance commissioner.

“The president has presided over the greatest economic recovery in a generation, he’s about to appoint the first Black woman to the Supreme Court and he’s worked with hardly any support from Republicans,” Wilson said.

“Biden isn’t on the ballot in November,” Wilson added, “but I’m confident that voters will remember that Democrats are fighting for the pro-people policies of this president.”

Interviews with left-leaning Georgia voters showed a sense of frustration with Biden to fulfill far-reaching campaign promises beyond the two big-ticket items that passed last year: a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure measure.

Garrett Snyder, an artist from Dunwoody who voted for Biden, said he’s tired of the gridlock in Washington that’s blocked the president, who campaigned as the ultimate congressional dealmaker, from achieving more of his agenda.

“I thought there was going to be quick action on student loans, student debt and education policy,” he said. “There were a lot of promises made that still haven’t happened. I’m frustrated with how everything has become two-sided.”

Many voters also shared a more general disgust with national politicians. Brian Michmerhuizen, a Spalding County retiree who describes himself as an independent, isn’t pleased with Biden’s tenure but has no love lost for Trump either.

“The man has some real moral issues,” he said. “It’s proven that he’s a liar, and I can’t imagine that the greatest country in the world really wants him to be at the head of it.”

‘The gutter’

Democratic officials aren’t particularly worried that Biden’s sagging approval among Black voters will hurt the party in November. Abrams and Warnock are two of the nation’s most prominent Black political leaders, and both have built their careers on mobilizing marginalized Georgians.

Democratic officials are hopeful that gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock can bring Blacks to the polls in November despite President Joe Biden's slipping popularity with those voters. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

What alarms some top Democrats is the president’s declining popularity among independent voters, once a reliably Republican voting bloc in Georgia that moved to the left during Trump’s term.

Some 60% of independent voters disapprove of Biden, compared with 42% who had a dim view of the president in the AJC’s May poll.

That helps explain why Republican candidates and their allies are targeting their message to middle-of-the-road voters around all-things-Biden, whether it be his foreign policy decisions, his domestic agenda or fears of new coronavirus restrictions.

Kemp, for one, is as likely to slam Biden on the airwaves and the campaign trail as he would Abrams or Perdue. In a speech this week to conservative evangelicals, he tied his reelection hopes directly to Biden’s fate.

“If we want a Republican in the White House in ‘24 and we want the Senate majority back in ‘22, we have to win the Senate in Georgia,” he said. “But we also cannot lose this governor’s race.”

Democrats warn that doubling down on attacking Biden has its own risks.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, the leading Democratic candidate for attorney general, pointed out results from the poll that found Georgia voters overwhelmingly oppose new limits on abortion and a rollback of gun restrictions — both priorities of Republican politicians.

“That should get the attention of conservatives,” Jordan said. “We’re moving in the right direction. But there’s also damage from the Trump era that needs to be repaired. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic and people are hurting — and Biden’s policies are helping.”

Some Republicans aren’t banking on Biden’s popularity remaining in a ditch. John Porter, a GOP consultant who was Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan’s top aide, offered a reminder of how Georgia Republicans overcame Trump’s eroding approval in 2018. But, he added, the GOP is still in an enviable position.

“If Biden’s numbers stay in the gutter,” he said, “you can bet the Republicans will make these races a referendum on him.”

Staff writers Tia Mitchell and Mark Niesse contributed to this article.