Biden Campaign: Defending Democracy Key09/28 06:13
On the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, President Joe Biden stood in
early 2022 at the literal epicenter of the insurrection and accused Donald
Trump of continuing to hold a "dagger" at democracy's throat. Biden closed out
the summer that year in the shadow of Philadelphia's Independence Hall,
decrying Trumpism as a menace to democratic institutions.
PHOENIX (AP) -- On the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, President Joe
Biden stood in early 2022 at the literal epicenter of the insurrection and
accused Donald Trump of continuing to hold a "dagger" at democracy's throat.
Biden closed out the summer that year in the shadow of Philadelphia's
Independence Hall, decrying Trumpism as a menace to democratic institutions.
And that November, as voters were casting ballots in the midterm elections,
Biden again sounded a clarion call to protect democratic institutions, warning
that their underpinnings remained under threat.
Biden on Thursday will make his fourth in a series of presidential addresses
about the state of democracy, a cause that is a key motivator and a touchstone
for him as he tries to remain in office even in the face of low approval
ratings and widespread concern from voters about his age, 80.
The location for this speech, as was the case for the others, was
deliberately chosen: It will be near Arizona State University, which houses the
McCain Institute, named after the late Arizona Sen. John McCain -- a friend of
Biden and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who spent his public life
denouncing autocrats around the globe.
Now, as Biden slowly ramps up his Democratic reelection campaign, his core
focus on democracy is increasingly intertwined with the political dynamics that
are confronting him. His likeliest 2024 opponent, Trump, continues to spread
falsehoods about the results from the 2020 election he lost to Biden and is
battling unprecedented criminal charges stemming in part from those lies.
Those competing with the Republican former president for their party's 2024
presidential nomination have largely avoided challenging his election
falsehoods and his allies on Capitol Hill are only becoming more emboldened as
he eggs them on, including toward a looming government shutdown that appears
all but inevitable.
In closed-door fundraisers, Biden has opined at length about his case for
reelection, imploring supporters to join his effort to "literally save American
democracy," as he described it to a gaggle of wealthy donors earlier this month
in New York.
"I'm running because we made progress -- that's good -- but because our
democracy, I think, is still at risk. And I mean it," Biden said. "I don't
think it's hyperbole to suggest that. Because our most important freedoms --
the freedom to choose, the freedom to vote, the freedom to be, the right to be
who you are, to love who you love -- is being attacked and shredded today,
Advisers see Biden's continued focus on democracy as not only good policy
but also good politics. Campaign officials have pored over the election results
from last November, when candidates who denied the 2020 election results did
not fare well in competitive races, and point to polling that showed democracy
was a highly motivating issue for voters in 2022.
Candidates who backed Trump's election lies and were running for statewide
offices with some influence over elections -- governor, secretary of state,
attorney general -- lost their races in every presidential battleground state.
A senior White House official, who insisted on anonymity to preview Biden's
Thursday remarks, said his Arizona address will highlight the "importance of
America's institutions in preserving our democracy and the need for constant
loyalty to the U.S. Constitution." Biden's appearance at the center that honors
McCain will also tie into the theme, with the president set to urge Americans
to "never walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to
defend our democracy."
In few states does Biden's message of democracy resonate more than in
Arizona, which became politically competitive during Trump's presidency after
seven decades of GOP dominance and later became a hotbed of efforts to overturn
or cast doubt on Biden's victory there.
Republican state lawmakers used their subpoena power to get ahold of all the
2020 ballots and vote-counting machines from Maricopa County, then hired Trump
supporters to conduct an unprecedented partisan review of the election. The
widely mocked spectacleconfirmed Biden's victory but fueled unfounded
conspiracy theories about the election.
Later, the GOP-controlled board of supervisors in one rural county refused
to certify the midterm election results, forcing a judge to intervene. The
state has seen an exodus of election workers.
And last November, voters up and down the ballot rejected Republican
candidates who repeatedly denied the results of the 2020 election. Kari Lake,
the GOP gubernatorial candidate, has never conceded her loss to now-Gov. Katie
Hobbs and is preparing a bid for the U.S. Senate next year. Republican Senate
candidate Blake Masters and Mark Finchem, who ran for secretary of state, also
repeated fraudulent election claims in their respective campaigns.
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who defeated Masters, appeared at a campaign rally
in November alongside former President Barack Obama, who in his remarks framed
the race in Arizona as a battle to protect democracy. That message, Kelly now
says, not only resonated with members of his own party but independents and
moderate GOP voters.
"I met so many Republicans that were sick and tired of the lies about an
election that was 2 years old," Kelly said. "They were just done with it, and
they did not appreciate folks who were running for high offices just lying
Indeed, Republicans privately concede that the election denialism rhetoric
that dominated their candidates' message -- as well as the looming specter of
Trump -- damaged their efforts to retain the governor's mansion and flip a
hotly contested Senate seat, according to three Republican officials who worked
in statewide races last cycle.
The issue of democracy resonated more in Arizona than in other competitive
states, and to have candidates deny basic facts on elections helped reinforce
claims from Democrats about GOP extremism on other, completely separate issues,
said the Republican officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to
candidly describe the party's shortcomings last year. Though Trump-animated
forces in the party dominated public attention, many Republican voters were
concerned about other issues such as the economy and the border and did not
want to focus on a past election result.
Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in next
year's Senate race, said a democracy-focused message also is particularly
important to two critical blocs of voters in the state: Latinos and veterans,
both of whom Gallego said are uniquely affected by election denialism and the
Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
"You know, we come from countries and experiences where democracy is very
corrupt, and many of us are only one generation removed from that, but we're
close enough to see how bad it can be," Gallego said. "And so Jan. 6 actually
was particularly jarring, I think, to Latinos."
On Thursday, Biden is set to speak at a performing arts center on the shore
of Tempe Town Lake, a once-dry riverbed that has become an oasis for outdoor
recreation in the desert. The lake is the centerpiece of the Rio Salado
Project, a riverbed revitalization plan that McCain advocated for until his
As he pays tribute to McCain on Thursday, Biden will also announce new
federal funds being directed to build the McCain Library, which the White House
described as a "new multi-purpose facility to provide education, work, and
health monitoring programs to underserved communities in the state."
The money comes from a massive $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed
in the early months of Biden's presidency, and the project is in partnership
with the with the McCain Institute and Arizona State University. The late
senator's wife, Cindy McCain, other members of their family, Hobbs, and the
state's representatives on Capitol Hill will be at the event commemorating
McCain, "whose intolerance for the abuse of power and faith in America sets a
powerful example to live by," the White House said.