US President Joe Biden launched a final push Thursday to save Democrats from defeat in midterm elections that he sees as a make-or-break moment for US democracy, while Republicans hammer the White House on issues like inflation and immigration.
Next Tuesday's election will decide control of Congress, with polls pointing to Republicans taking over the Democrats' current razor-thin majority – likely turning the remaining two years of Biden's first term into a permanent political dog fight.
Republican Kevin McCarthy, set to become House speaker if his party wins a majority, said Biden was failing to address voters' concerns on everything from inflation to "skyrocketing crime."
"Democrats just want to distract you from the disasters they created," he tweeted.
Biden's three-day tour took him first to New Mexico, then California and Illinois – a choice of largely Democrat strongholds that indicates just how defensive the party has become under attacks on high numbers of undocumented migrants, rising crime and the worst inflation in four decades.
On Saturday he is due in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania, alongside the still popular former president Barack Obama. They'll be competing with Donald Trump, who remains the Republican party's de facto leader and possible 2024 presidential candidate despite losing the 2020 election and being under investigation for stashing top secret documents from the White House at his Florida golf resort.
The divisive figure, still a hero to tens of millions of US citizens, is holding his own rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, as well as another in Ohio.
On the attack
On Wednesday, Biden directly attacked his predecessor's ongoing campaign to promote conspiracy theories denying he lost in 2020 and undermining US voters' confidence in the results of the midterms.
And Biden linked a brutal home invasion and attack on the husband of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the political violence unleashed by Trump supporters against Congress on January 6, 2021.
"There are candidates running for every level of office in America... who won't commit to accepting the results of the elections they're in," Biden said.
Their goal, he said, was to follow Trump's lead and try to "subvert the electoral system itself" – noting there are more than 300 Republican election deniers on the ballot in races across the country this year.
"They've emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials," he charged – less than two years after a mob of Trump supporters ransacked the US Capitol to try to overturn the 2020 result. "That is the path to chaos in America.”
Nearly 22 months after the pro-Trump mob assaulted the Capitol, polling shows that US voters are more concerned with the economy than Biden's warnings about democracy.
More than half say the price of fuel and consumer goods is the economic issue that worries them the most in a new Quinnipiac University national poll.
With Republicans the clear favourites to take control of the House, all eyes are on the Senate. Two months ago, Republicans appeared to have lost hope of getting back the upper chamber, amid concerns over the quality of a slate of gaffe-prone, election-denying, Trump-backed candidates who were struggling in swing states. But a late-spending surge has kept most competitive.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report has Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin – any one of which could tip the balance of power in the upper chamber of Congress – as "toss-ups."
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that in addition to defending democracy, Biden's party will stand in the way of Republican plans to slash social welfare spending.
In a briefing aboard Air Force One, she also defended the administration's economic record, saying that a recession could still be avoided and highlighting the strong job growth.
"We're optimistic," she said.