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Team Biden's Relief Bill Victory Lap Traces Paths To Victory In 2022

First lady Jill Biden speaks as she visits the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, March 17, 2021, to pay tribute to the New Hampshire woman chosen 35 years ago to be America's "Teacher in Space" and to emphasize that the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan signed into law by President Joe Biden last week will provide funding for the reopening of schools.
Susan Walsh
First lady Jill Biden speaks as she visits the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, March 17, 2021, to pay tribute to the New Hampshire woman chosen 35 years ago to be America's "Teacher in Space" and to emphasize that the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan signed into law by President Joe Biden last week will provide funding for the reopening of schools.

Here are two trends that very well may be preoccupying the White House right now:

One, midterms tend to be rough for a president. The more seats the president's party holds in Congress, the more they tend to lose, according to data from the UCSB's American Presidency Project. In fact, if you plot seats lost or gained against seats held, the slope points decidedly downward.

Since 1934, the president's party has lost on average 11% of their House seats in midterms. Were Democrats to have even an average midterm election next year, their 219-211 majority in the House would become a narrow minority. And with a similar trend in the Senate, the party could easily lose its as-narrow-as-possible majority there.

Now, to trend number two: the higher the president's approval, the less painful the losses. Case in point is George W. Bush, who had a 67% approval rating ahead of the 2002 midterms and bucked history when his party gained eight seats.

And it is perhaps with those front of mind that the White House put together this week's travel plan for the president, vice president, and their spouses. The trips were meant to be ways to tout the American Rescue Plan, which expands unemployment, gives $1,400 to many American adults, and expands the safety net in a variety of other ways.

Those trips also just happen to go to places where Democratic lawmakers are set to face tough reelection prospects, as well as places where the party may see the opportunity to pick up GOP seats.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged the political benefit of the trips, highlighting Georgia — a purple state where newly elected Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock will be up for reelection next year.

"That's a state where [President Biden] campaigned with the two newest members of the Senate, in part on a commitment to deliver on these $1,400 direct checks, which is part of what was signed into law last week," she said.

Psaki said this before an Atlanta-area shootings this week that left eight dead, including six women of Asian descent. In light of that, Biden and Harris will still be making a planned trip to Atlanta but plan to focus on meeting with community leaders, while postponing a political celebration of the rescue package.

Polling released this week by Democratic super PAC Priorities USA found that a plurality of voters the group considers persuadable — 40% — believed Biden's economic policies would be "good for people like you." Comparatively, 25% said the same of Republican Congress members' economic policies.

"Coming out of the American Rescue Plan and looking forward into infrastructure and other economic policies that the administration is focused on, we have an opportunity to zero in here specifically on these persuadable voters," said Guy Cecil, chairman of the super PAC, in a call with reporters this week.

Below is a rundown of where the president, vice president, first lady, and second gentleman traveled this week, and the political stakes in those places ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

March 15 — Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff to Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas borders on Nevada congressional districts 3 and 4, held respectively by Democrats Susie Lee and Steven Horsford. Republicans consider both of those members vulnerable, per a recent memo from the National Republican Congressional Committee that lists both as being in "battleground districts." (And indeed, both districts are within just a few points of the national partisan split, per the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index.)

Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is also up for reelection next year. It's a race Cook listed as "likely D" in late January, but it's also a state that has only the narrowest of Democratic leans.

March 15 — First Lady Jill Biden to Burlington, NJ

Burlington is smack dab in center of New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District, held by Democrat Andy Kim. He's another member the GOP will be targeting, and with good reason: It's a district where Trump narrowly edged out Biden in November, according to 2020 results tabulated by Daily Kos.

In addition, Burlington is near Philadelphia, always a focal point in national elections. That means word of Jill Biden's visit may have reached voters across the metro area's media market, potentially reaching the crucial Philadelphia suburbs (see next item on this list).

March 16 — President Joe Biden to Delaware County, PA

Delaware County is part of Pennsylvania's 5th Congressional District, which covers the inner western suburbs of Philadelphia. It's a solidly Democratic district, but also a key suburban area that helped deliver the state — and presidency — to Biden last year.

In addition, touting economic accomplishments in Pennsylvania may be a sign of the White House on offense for 2022. Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring from his seat in the purple state, and that race is considered a toss-up, per Cook.

March 16 — Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff to Denver, CO

Colorado doesn't have any obvious swing districts in the immediate Denver area; the state's tightest House race in 2020 was in the large third district, taking up much of the western half of the state. That seat is held by controversial far-right Rep. Lauren Boebert.

The state does have one senator running for reelection next year: Michael Bennet, in what is considered a solidly Democratic seat.

March 17 — Jill Biden to Concord, NH

In New Hampshire's Senate race next year, Democrat Maggie Hassan will defend the seat she narrowly won in 2016 from Republican Kelly Ayotte in the swing state. As of late January, the state was preliminarily considered a "likely" Democratic win, but Hassan could have a tough campaign ahead if she's running against the state's popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, who has said he's "definitely open" to running.

Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas will also be defending his seat in a swingy district that went for Obama in 2012, then Trump in 2016, then Biden last year. He is another Democrat whom the NRCC says it is targeting.

March 17 — Doug Emhoff to Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico has a congressional election coming up much sooner than 2022: the 1st District seat, which Deb Haaland vacated to become Interior Secretary. That election, by law, will happen within the next three months, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State. A visit to the state touting the White House's economic policy could boost Democrats in that race.

March 19 — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to Atlanta, GA

Georgia is of course a swing state that went blue for the first time since 1992 in the presidential race, a crucial part of Biden and Harris' victory. That makes it an important place for the White House to continue to focus attention. As mentioned above, one of the state's new Democratic senators, Raphael Warnock, has to run again next year to win a full term.

However, the president and vice president's visit took on new, solemn importance this week, after the Atlanta-area shootings. Biden and Harris are now meeting with Asian-American community leaders on their Friday visit, along with state legislators. They will also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to talk about progress against the pandemic, a public health priority which is also politically important. And the White House says to expect a return trip to Georgia before long.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.