In a new TV ad, Sen. Maggie Hassan tries to put some distance between herself and President Joe Biden.
“I’m taking on members of my own party to push a gas tax holiday,” says the New Hampshire Democrat in her first ad of 2022. “And I’m pushing Joe Biden to release more of our oil reserves. That’s how we lower costs and get through these times.”
The message is unmistakable:
1) Gas prices are a major problem in the country.
2) Biden and Democratic leaders aren’t doing enough to solve it.
3) Hassan isn’t afraid to tell her party – and her President – that they need to do better.
Remember that the ads candidates choose to run are deeply revealing about their understanding of the current political environment. The spots are almost always shown to focus groups before running. And campaigns spend a major bulk of the millions of dollars they raise on ads designed to persuade voters.
Given that, it’s decidedly significant that Hassan’s first ad of the year is an attempt to get some distance from Biden (and her party more broadly).
Biden, after all, won New Hampshire by seven points in 2020. The state has two Democratic US senators and both of its US House members are Democrats.
But New Hampshire has turned away from Biden and Democrats – mimicking the broader disapproval with which Biden is regarded nationally – and made her reelection race a fraught affair for Hassan.
Polling released last week by the University of New Hampshire showed the Democratic incumbent in a statistical dead heat among likely voters with three of the best-known Republicans running against her. (The strongest potential Republican candidate – Gov. Chris Sununu – shocked the political world in November when he announced that he would not run for Senate.) The New Hampshire Senate seat is currently ranked as the sixth most likely to switch parties by CNN.
Hassan’s strategy carries real risks – most notably that she could alienate Democratic base voters who she badly need to show up to have a chance at winning this fall.
Already, Democrats nationally are experiencing a considerable passion gap between their base and that of Republicans.
In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, 42% of Americans said they strongly disapprove of the job Biden is doing as president, while only 21% said they strongly approve. That same poll shows that Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they are more certain to vote than Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents by a margin of 10 points.
Those numbers reveal the incredibly difficult line that endangered incumbents like Hassan must try to walk over the next six months.
In order to win over swing voters and even some Republican-leaning voters, they need to show independence from Biden – particularly on issues like inflation and gas prices that Americans regularly say are top of mind.
At the same time, Hassan and other Democratic incumbents can’t be seen as trying to dump Biden entirely, as that will not sit well with a party base that still, broadly, supports the President.
It’s a delicate political proposition – and one that only the most skilled of politicians will be able to navigate.