Balance of power: Vulnerable Dems look to differentiate themselves from unpopular Biden

Some of the most vulnerable Democratic Senate incumbents up for re-election in November have looked to highlight their disagreements with President Biden ahead of the pivotal matchups. 

“‘Distancing’ from a party brand is a time-honored tradition in Congress,” explained Jacob Neiheisel, associate professor of political science at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.; Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.; and Bob Casey, D-Pa., are embroiled in the most competitive races of the 2024 cycle, with the Democrats up against one of the toughest re-election maps in years. 

“They’re going to sound like MAGA Republicans in their TV ads before it’s all over with,” said Republican strategist Scott Jennings. 


Last week, Tester came out in favor of a largely Republican-supported illegal immigration measure named after slain Georgia college student Laken Riley. He previously voted against moving forward with the bill, which takes aim at illegal immigrants like the one charged with Riley’s murder, as a potential amendment to a larger bill package. However, Tester did signal at the time he would support it if it came to the floor as a stand-alone bill, despite the unlikelihood of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. allowing that to happen. 

Tester’s office vehemently pushed back on previous claims that he was against the bill. “Claims from Mitch McConnell-backed groups that Senator Tester changed his position on the Laken Riley Act are patently false and another desperate attempt to politicize the border instead of fixing it,” his office told Fox News Digital. 

The Montana senator isn’t the only one to make his differences with Biden clear in the lead-up to the election. 

Rosen, who represents the critical swing state of Nevada, also diverged with Biden publicly on multiple occasions. In particular, Rosen is partially credited with killing the Biden administration’s hopes of confirming the first Muslim federal appellate judge in Adeel Mangi. The Nevada senator came out against the controversial Biden nominee, citing his ties with an allegedly anti-law enforcement organization. 


“This is what they do,” Jennings said. “They spend five and a half years supporting Democrats and Democratic policies that everyone in their state hates. And then they spend six months pretending it never happened.”

The Republican strategist added, though, that they may be hard-pressed to convince voters of their differences with the president, given that they vote in line with him nearly all the time. 

In 2023, Tester voted with Biden the second least among other Democratic senators. However, he still aligned with the president 94.6% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s analysis. Brown voted with Biden 97.9% of the time, Rosen 98.6%, and Baldwin and Casey each 99.3%.

“Jon Tester does what’s right for Montana. President Trump signed more than 20 of his bills into law, and over the years Jon has stood up to President Biden on many issues — from securing the border to protecting Montana from burdensome energy regulations,” said Monica Robinson, a spokesperson for Montanans for Tester. 


Matt Keyes, spokesperson for Friends of Sherrod Brown, argued similar motivations for the senator in Ohio. “He has stood up to presidents of both parties to oppose bad trade deals, worked with Republicans to make sure border patrol agents and law enforcement officers have the resources they need, and demanded that the Biden administration crack down on Chinese-made electric vehicles,” Keyes said. 

According to Paul Beck, a political science professor at the Ohio State University, “Biden is unpopular here in Ohio, and to win Brown will have to poll considerably better than Biden will.”

Further, he noted that any moves from Brown to support Republican efforts can only help him. “He will not pay a penalty for supporting a Republican bill, and it may allow him to demonstrate his independence,” Beck said.

“Tammy Baldwin has stood up to Presidents Trump and Biden on behalf of Wisconsin workers,” said Tammy Baldwin for Senate spokesman Andrew Mamo in a statement, echoing the same sentiment. “Wisconsinites trust her because no matter who is in the White House, she fights for them.”

Per Johanna Warshaw, Rosen for Nevada spokesperson, “Jacky Rosen has worked to get things done in a bipartisan way and has never been afraid to disagree with her party leaders to do what’s right for Nevada.”

“Bob Casey is consistently ranked among the most effective and bipartisan senators in Washington and has worked across the aisle to create jobs and lower costs,” Maddy McDaniel, spokesperson for Bob Casey for Senate, said in a statement. 


National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Communications Director Mike Berg told Fox News Digital, “These Democrats are running against everything they voted for now that Joe Biden’s poll numbers have taken a hit,” calling it “very bizarre.” 

Jennings predicted the senators would continue to make efforts to demonstrate their differences with the president, especially with his historically low approval. 

Biden has maintained an average approval rating of 38.7%, Gallup revealed last month. This is historically low, with each of the last nine presidents going back to Dwight Eisenhower boasting higher averages at the same point. 

A Biden campaign spokesperson pointed to the president’s accomplishments, saying in a statement, “Joe Biden created 15 million jobs, capped the price of insulin at $35, and made health care more affordable than ever.”

The spokesperson emphasized that “Democrats across the country will be running on” Biden’s “record of historic results for the American people.”

“Republicans’ MAGA agenda is toxic with voters, as we saw with their failed red wave in 2022 and strong, Democratic overperformance wins in the NY special election and Kentucky gubernatorial,” they added. 

While the senators are using a strategy that has been relied on historically, not everyone is sure it will continue to work. “As politics continues to nationalize in the U.S., I’m not sure if voters in those states are going to be able to separate the individual from the party,” said Neiheisel. 

Republican strategist Zack Roday, a partner at Ascent Media, claimed the vulnerable Democrats’ positioning ahead of the elections is “nonsense.” 

“These Senate Democrats are a safe vote for Biden every time,” he emphasized. 

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