OPINION: The state of Joe Biden in Georgia is weak. But why?

President Joe Biden declared that the state of our union is strong last night, now two years into his presidency. But it turns out the state of Joe Biden here in Georgia isn’t so rosy.

The latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed only about 35% of Georgia voters approve of the way Biden is handling his job, compared with nearly 60% who disapprove. Dig in further and just 14% strongly approve of what he’s done in office so far, while nearly triple that number, 41%, strongly disapprove of what Biden’s been up to.

The question now for Democrats is whether Georgians simply don’t know what the president has done — or whether Georgians know what Biden has done and just don’t like it.

On the question of what Biden has done for Georgia lately, the answer is plenty. He has pushed to move the state up in the Democrats’ presidential nominating process and put Atlanta on the very, very short list to host the Democratic National Convention in 2024.

And since 2021, he has signed reams of new laws that are sending billions of dollars to people and projects in Georgia.

There was the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Biden signed in 2021. We’re still finding out which roads and bridges that money will go to, but it included passages especially written for solar companies in Georgia and car companies building new plants here.

The American Rescue Plan that Biden signed six months earlier included more than $10 billion in COVID-19 relief for businesses, people and hospitals in the state, along with $4.8 billion for state and local projects. As my colleague James Salzer has reported, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced the windfall at various press conferences last year without ever mentioning Biden’s role in sending it here.

That included Kemp’s announcement of $408 million for high-speed internet access to the state’s most far-flung rural areas. That’s where homes are spread out so far it hasn’t paid for internet companies to do the work themselves before now.

The same bill paid for $1,000 bonuses for Georgia first responders; a $130 million emergency cash infusion for Grady Memorial Hospital after the Atlanta Medical Center closed; and $422 million in local sewer upgrades across the state, including $12 million in Valdosta, $10 million in Winder and $7 million in Wrightsville.

Yet Biden is still unpopular in the state. He may even be most disliked in the conservative areas seeing the most from his administration. So what’s going on?

The first theory is that Georgians just don’t know what the president is doing, that he’s not selling it. And there’s truth to some part of that.

Biden’s speeches don’t exactly light up a stage. And he was absent from Georgia over the past year, mostly to help U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock get reelected, knowing a photo op with an unpopular president could damage the senator’s chances.

That’s how you get reelected in a state where the president isn’t popular, but the Biden cheering squad in Georgia hasn’t been overly loud and proud.

In rolling out the bills coming out of Washington, Georgia Democrats tend to focus on the work that Congress did to make it happen while leaving Biden mostly unmentioned.

A joint press release this week from Warnock, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams to announce $30 million for bike lanes in the city of Atlanta credited the infrastructure bill for the money but never mentioned Biden’s role.

An event with Ossoff and Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens at City Hall rolling out the bike lane project also left Biden for last.

I asked Ossoff later why the president’s approval is sagging in a state where he has sent so many resources.

“That sounds like a White House question,” Ossoff said. “I’m focused on making sure that these huge national programs address the needs expressed to me at the local level.”

Ossoff listed the places in the state where he’d been just last week announcing funding from Biden-signed bills — Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which is getting upgrades to the D and E concourses, Buford Highway for pedestrian safety, Thomson for flooding on Main Street, Byron to replace the water main there, the list goes on and on.

“So the national politics and approval ratings are not top of mind for me,” he said. “What’s top of mind is doing my job, which is taking advantage of this historic opportunity.”

Beyond Democrats’ messaging, the second theory behind the president’s low approval in Georgia is that most people know all about what he’s doing and don’t like what it is.

Along with all the federal money coming into Georgia has come painful inflation and rising interest rates.

The unemployment rate under Biden has dropped to a 53-year low, but the money people are making in those jobs doesn’t go as far as it did even last year.

Republicans in Washington have an unusual opening to go up against an unpopular incumbent president as he’s heading into his reelection bid. But somehow, they seem determined to blow it.

The only numbers worse than Biden’s in an ABC News-Washington Post poll this week were those of newly installed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

When Americans were asked how much confidence they have in Biden or McCarthy to make the right decisions, 31% trust Biden, but just 19% trust McCarthy.

Could that be because House Republicans talk more about Hunter Biden’s laptop than the cost of college?

Or because Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, recently appointed by McCarthy to the House Homeland Security Committee, has taken to calling Biden “China Joe”?

If Democrats don’t seem focused on inflation, Republicans don’t seem focused on anything.

I recently gave a talk to a class of fourth-graders about being a political reporter and asked the students what questions they’d have for the president if they could talk to him.

“Why is food so expensive at the grocery store?” one asked. “Why does a car cost twice as much as it used to?” another wanted to know.

Those are the real conversations happening in people’s homes, not discussions about the new bike lanes that Joe Biden helped send to Georgia, as much as some people are bound to like them once they’re here.

The Georgia cheering section for Biden will inevitably grow louder as it’s the president up for reelection here instead. Vice President Kamala Harris is making Atlanta her first stop Wednesday in a road show to sell the Biden agenda after the State of the Union. She’ll be joined by plenty of local Georgia leaders.