October 29, 2023

Josh Kraushaar here. Thanks for joining Sunday Sneak Peek, our weekly look ahead at the forces shaping American politics.

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,387 words ... 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Biden's 1979 moment

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden is running for re-election at a time when the world appears to be in chaos.

  • On the foreign policy front, his presidency is playing out similarly to that of the last Democratic president who failed to win a second term: Jimmy Carter.

Why it matters: Three destabilizing overseas crises have taken place during Biden's presidency: The chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and now, the prospect of a regional war in the Middle East.

  • The chaos across the globe is leading many Americans to conclude that we're facing a moment of historic danger, as Axios CEO Jim VandeHei and co-founder Mike Allen describe it.
  • That sense of fear and dread — on top of widespread economic anxiety — is very bad news for any president running for re-election.

Zoom out: There are some striking similarities to the political challenges Biden is facing and the headwinds faced by former President Carter, who was dragged down by twin foreign policy crises heading into his re-election.

  • Carter's demise was fueled by the 1979 Iranian Revolution that ousted the pro-American shah for an Islamic fundamentalist regime still in power today. The Iranian regime's holding of dozens of American hostages dominated the headlines — and drained Carter's political capital — through his re-election campaign.
  • In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, prompting the Carter White House to take a harder line with the Soviets. But that newfound toughness did little to change American perception that the world was adrift.
  • Once again, a Democratic president is facing wars fueled by Iran (led by Hamas and Hezbollah, its proxies in the Middle East) and Russia. Once again, American hostages are being held — and the U.S. looks like it's struggling to deter its enemies.

Between the lines: Like Carter, Biden faces softening support from a key part of the Democratic coalition: young, progressive voters.

Zoom in: Voters' concern with Biden is mainly over his age and ability to handle the stress of such a taxing job. The major vulnerability for Carter, who faced a serious primary threat from Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1980, was his political inexperience — raising worries he was in over his head as overseas crises worsened.

Reality check: In a best-case scenario for Biden — one in which Israel effectively takes out Hamas without a wider war and Ukraine gains ground repelling Russia — he could receive a commander-in-chief bump.

  • And Biden aides say the president polls well when it comes to his responses to the crises in Israel and Ukraine, and on the issue of withdrawing from Afghanistan.

The bottom line: The demand for global leadership against hostile powers, which Biden articulated clearly in his Oval Office address last week, is running up against a growing isolationism and dismissiveness of America's role as a guarantor of global security — within both parties.

  • Biden will need to convince Americans he's up for the job. His message, so far, has been clear. But his actions will have to speak louder than words — in an increasingly volatile world.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with the White House's perspective on Biden polling well on international issues.

2. 📊 Poll of the week: Biden's blue wall cracking

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden's super PAC is calling for a new strategic focus on voters who dislike both Biden and former President Trump, seeing them as a potential "tipping point" in key battleground states like Wisconsin.

Driving the news: A recent internal poll found that Biden and Trump are tied, 50%-50%, in the three biggest Rust Belt battlegrounds, all of which flipped to Biden in 2020.

  • The poll of 3,000 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — conducted in late September by the Democrats' polling firm GQRR — shows Biden will be facing a tougher political environment than he did in 2020.
  • Biden carried Michigan by 3 points, and won Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by 1 point apiece last election.

Between the lines: The poll pushed respondents to choose between Biden and Trump, even though some voters are still undecided. There will also be third-party candidates on the actual ballot in 2024.

By the numbers: The most significant takeaway is the voting preferences of the voters who claim they don't like Biden or Trump (16% of respondents).

  • Among these "double haters," Trump leads by 3 points over Biden (51%-48%). Trump won these voters by 17 points in 2016 over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but Biden and Trump were statistically tied among them in 2020.
  • These "double-haters" are more likely to be men, hold college degrees and identify as Republicans.
  • Despite Trump's narrow edge among these disaffected voters, more of them view Trump "very unfavorably" (59%) than Biden (49%).

What they're saying: "Given the razor-thin margins in these battleground states, especially Wisconsin, our focus must shift to engage and understand the 'No-No' voters. They could be the tipping point," GQRR pollster Elizabeth Sena wrote.

3. ✏️ Split decisions in the 2024 redistricting wars

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The battle for the House majority could come down to which party wins more court battles allowing partisans to draw congressional maps in their favor.

  • This week, Republicans were able to redraw the political map in North Carolina to maximize their power — but faced a legal setback in Georgia that could allow Democrats to gain a House seat.

Why it matters: The Republican gerrymander in North Carolina, if not overturned by a court challenge, will likely oust three of the most moderate Democrats from the House — Reps. Kathy Manning, Jeff Jackson and Wiley Nickel, further polarizing the lower chamber.

Go deeper: A newly drawn Georgia map would be required to draw a majority Black district in the west Atlanta suburbs. Georgia is likely to appeal the ruling.

Zoom out: Democrats have won redistricting battles in Alabama and Louisiana, paving the way for them to pick up an additional seat apiece in the two deep South states.

  • The biggest test will be in New York, where the state's highest court will soon decide whether a new map will be drawn. The court overturned a gerrymandered map drawn by state Democratic lawmakers last year, but the composition of the court is now more favorable to liberals.
  • A favorable decision in New York could net Democrats several additional seats, offsetting their losses in North Carolina.

The bottom line: The battle for House control typically takes place on the campaign trail. In 2024, the majority could be decided in court.

4. 📖 Reads of the week: Dean's scream against Biden

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

1. Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips launches a White House bid, challenging Biden" (NBC News)

Why it matters: Phillips, a respected moderate congressman and businessman, is a long-shot to unseat a sitting president in the Democratic primary.

  • But the 54-year-old's candidacy will give Democratic voters concerned about Biden's age — and electability — a credible vehicle to express their frustrations.
  • Phillips is also independently wealthy — he estimates his net worth is around $50 million — giving him ample resources to get his message out.
  • He kicked off his campaign in New Hampshire, a state hospitable to independent candidacies — and one in which Biden finished a dismal fifth place in 2020.
  • Biden is not participating in the state's primary, which is being penalized by the DNC for not moving back its date. Still, a strong Phillips showing against an expected Biden write-in effort would be embarrassing for a sitting president.

2. "Representative Jared Golden of Maine calls for a ban on assault weapons, reversing a long-held stance" (New York Times)

Why it matters: Golden is one of only five House Democrats representing a district Trump carried, and his willingness to buck the party line — on issues like gun control — has been a big reason for his success.

  • But Golden shifted his position in the aftermath of a mass shooting that killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine. Golden, who voted against assault weapons bans in Congress, is now asking his constituents for "forgiveness and support."
  • Golden is facing a serious challenge from Republican Austin Theriault, a state representative and former NASCAR driver.

📬 Thanks for starting your week with us. This newsletter was copy edited by Kathie Bozanich