Now that President Joe Biden has signed his highly sought-after infrastructure bill into law, it is time for Democrats to go out and sell the accomplishment.
Building Back Together, the pro-Biden outside organization that formed earlier this year with the White House’s blessing, is starting that work with a $10 million ad campaign to tout the infrastructure proposal across the country, including in Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – all states with key Senate races in 2022. If Congress can pass the companion social spending bill currently being negotiated on Capitol Hill, the group plans to use the campaign to tout the possible the legislative accomplishment.
The group’s first ad of the campaign – titled “Long Time Coming” – features video of the bipartisan bill signing and focuses on how the law will address supply chain issues in the United States, fix decaying roads and bridges and replace lead pipes to provide clean drinking water.
The ad campaign will run through Thanksgiving and air spots in battleground states during highly watched television events, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and multiple Thanksgiving Day NFL clashes, including Las Vegas Raiders vs. Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions.
“Our goal is to make sure that folks know exactly what has been delivered to them,” said Danielle Melfi, executive director of Building Back Together. “We want to make sure we are taking that agenda straight to the American people, not wasting any time to communicate about this president delivering.”
Building Back Together also plans to put up billboards near infrastructure projects that were made possible by the newly passed legislation.
Biden signed the infrastructure bill on Monday, delivering on his campaign promise to strike a bipartisan deal that addresses the county’s aging roads, bridges, and waterways. The President signed the bill in a rare gathering at the White House where he was flanked by both Democrats and Republicans who voted for the bill. The White House now turns its focus to passing a broader social spending bill that has yet to garner the same kind of support from both parties.
The legislative win comes days after the Democratic Party suffered a significant defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial election and narrowly won a closer-than-expected race for New Jersey’s top executive position. The struggles are seen as warning signs for Democrats headed into the 2022 election cycle. History shows that the party in power – Democrats control the White House, Senate and House – often loses seats in the subsequent midterms.
Biden’s approval has also slumped in recent months. A CNN Poll of Polls, an average of the six most recent nonpartisan, national surveys of adults on Biden’s job approval, found that 45% of Americans approve how he is handling his job, compared to 52% of Americans who disapprove of the job he is doing.
Top operatives throughout the Democratic Party now believe that selling the infrastructure bill will be critical if the party will be able to stave off historic trends and have a stronger than expected showing in the 2022 midterms. Republican have looked to counter that messaging by highlighting concerns around inflation and a rising cost of living, while Democrats argue passing the two spending bills are the best way to curb rising prices.
“We’re confident that we’re able to make a very clear argument that this is going to lower your costs,” said Matt Barreto, a senior adviser for Building Back Together. “People are aware and concerned about costs today, and it is something that infrastructure is, first of all, immediately can start addressing… and the Build Back Better Act is going to continue that.”
Biden himself has acknowledged the importance of passing these bills, telling Democrats in the House of Representatives in his final push to pass the bills that he didn’t “think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”
“In less than a year, voters will have to rehire the Democratic majority or hire a new Republican one - and Democrats building roads, rebuilding bridges and expanding internet can become a centerpiece of that performance review,” said Jesse Ferguson, a veteran Democratic strategist. “If anyone has doubts about the politics of this, you need to only remember how desperate Donald Trump was to do what Joe Biden just got done.”
And Building Back Together will be far from alone in selling this bill.
Biden himself will stump across the country to sell the accomplishment. The President visited a bridge in Woodstock, New Hampshire, on Tuesday and plans to visit Detroit to tout electric vehicles on Wednesday – visiting states with significant midterm races. Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as several Cabinet officials, will also hit the road, hoping to tout the local implications in the bill.
The Democratic National Committee, too, has pledged to take the bill to the American people in the coming months, with an aide saying the committee plans to stretch out the messaging around the bill to create a “constant low simmer of engagement around President Biden’s achievement, instead of coming out of the gate all at once and then teetering off.”
All of this represents an attempt to learn lessons from the past. Democrats believe that former President Barack Obama’s administration did not successfully sell the $800 billion Recovery Act passed in 2009 and the fight over the Affordable Care Act, the sweeping health care overhaul signed into law in 2010, leading Democrats to take significant losses in the 2010 midterms. That cycle, Republicans used the complicated bills as an indictment of Washington, allowing Republicans to take control of the House and narrow the Democratic margin in the Senate. Obama later described the midterms as a “shellacking.”
David Axelrod, Obama’s longtime adviser, said selling the infrastructure plan is dramatically different than a complicated health care law, giving him hope that Biden could see success where Obama did not.
“The Affordable Care Act was a different challenge because many of its main provisions would not be enacted or felt for years,” said Axelrod, a CNN contributor. “In the case of the infrastructure bill, there should be visible projects underway relatively swiftly –physical evidence of progress. The task is to link those community improvements to this bill and this president in the minds of voters.”
Melfi said Democrats have “certainly learned our lesson from that fight,” noting that one key difference is the broad popularity of infrastructure when compared to the Affordable Care Act.
“Each piece of the agenda resonates with Americans across the country and across ideology. But we need to make sure we take credit for it,” she said. “We need to make sure folks know what is in this package and how it makes their lives better. And that’s why we’re getting started early.”
This story has been updated.