Obama, Biden teams optimistic about Democratic election prospects

Biden: "I'll be dumbfounded if we lose the House."
Image: Joe Biden
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns for Democratic candidates in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on Nov. 4, 2018.Chris Knight / AP

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By Kristen Welker and Mike Memoli

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama and Joe Biden aren’t on the ballot or in the White House for first time in a national election in a decade. But the two Democrats will be closely monitoring tonight’s results, eager to see their party rebound — and in Biden’s case, with a possible future White House run in mind.

A senior Obama official said the mood within their ranks was good after a closing campaign blitz by the 44th president. “But everyone has PTSD from 2016,” the official added, when most were confident Hillary Clinton would succeed Obama.

Biden was more optimistic about the outlook Tuesday.

“I'll be dumbfounded if we lose the House, dumbfounded,” he told NBC News after casting his own ballot near his home in Wilmington, Delaware. “I think we'll pick up to six governor seats in critical states in the upper Midwest and out west," he said, adding, "I still think there's a shot of us winning the Senate.”

The Obama and Biden teams remained in close contact this fall as each sketched out a busy fall campaign itinerary.

For Obama's team, the goal was to get the “most bang for the buck” in a trimmed down campaign schedule — stumping in areas where he could affect the most races at once, with a special focus on races that could help Democrats heading into the post-2020 redistricting as well as races where he could help promising Democrats get across the finish line and build a new bench of talent in the party.

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The Obama aide pointed to gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams in Georgia, Andrew Gillum in Florida and Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, as well as Texas Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke, as among the rising stars who caught Obama’s attention.

Obama made nearly a dozen public appearances after Labor Day, mostly at rallies targeting new and young voters. He also recorded 50 robocalls, radio ads and digital messages helping Democratic candidates. He took his cues, in part, from congressional leaders.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Obama personally and asked him to stump for Joe Donnelly in Indiana, for instance. Obama won the state in 2008.

Obama’s NowThis video op-ed generated 17 million views, and the ATTN GOTV video reached 16 million people — driving nearly 700,000 viewers to vote.org to register, vote early, and find their polling place, Obama’s team says.

“Campaign travel is the most visible sign of our political support but is not necessarily the impactful,” senior Obama adviser Eric Schultz told NBC News. “We are acutely aware that Democrats have a mixed record of success when President Obama is not on the ballot, and that he can galvanize opponents. That’s why we focused this year on tailored, GOTV strategies designed to move the needle for candidates.”

Biden has been among the most active national Democrats this cycle, visiting 24 states for public appearances and appearing at fundraisers for 65 candidates on the ballot Tuesday. He has held 18 public rallies just since Labor Day, including 13 in the last week.

Biden said Tuesday morning he had already called 25 candidates he’s endorsed this cycle. And he was planning to watch election returns at home in Delaware in close coordination with his political war room in Washington.

Biden’s political moves will attract greater scrutiny as he reiterated Tuesday that he is still considering a run for president in 2020. The final campaign event Biden held Sunday seemed specifically designed to send a message about what the former vice president thinks he can uniquely bring to the ticket.

It was in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, not far from Biden’s home town of Scranton. The county was among those with the biggest swing from blue to red in 2016 — from a 5 point Obama-Biden victory in 2012 to a 20-point Trump-Pence win, as the GOP also carried the state as a whole.

And in his campaign appearances Biden has been not shy about criticizing Democrats for, in his view, not doing enough to communicate to voters what they stand for, beyond opposition to Trump.

“Americans already know who Donald Trump is. The question is, who are we?” he told voters last week. “We haven’t been clear the last year and a half.”

Biden has crystalized the case this way: Democrats need to restore dignity to the public discourse, and help restore what he calls the “basic bargain” for the middle class, that they will share in the overall prosperity of the nation.

Biden’s team is already considering what campaigning he might do after Tuesday if any races go into overtime, like the Mississippi Senate race or Georgia governor’s race. And as he prepares for what he calls a “family decision” about his political future in December, Biden will also travel to promote the new paperback release of his 2017 book, “Promise Me, Dad,” about the death of his eldest son, Beau.

So far, three stops are scheduled in Montana, Texas and Vermont.

Mike Memoli reported from Wilmington, Del.