Swing-state Democrats keep their distance from President Biden

As midterms near, they are treading carefully about associating with him.

NEW ALBANY, Ohio -- After voting for the bipartisan computer chip manufacturing bill earlier this year, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, was one of several lawmakers with President Joe Biden on Friday in Licking County to mark the groundbreaking of Intel's new semiconductor chip factory.

But as a Democratic candidate in a competitive Senate race, Ryan has kept his distance from Biden -- who lost Ohio to then-President Donald Trump by 8 points in 2020.

The Ryan campaign has not asked Biden or anyone from the White House to campaign with the Senate hopeful, with "no plans to do so," spokesperson Izzi Levy told ABC News.

In this May 11, 2022, file photo, Rep. Tim Ryan attends a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing in Rayburn Building in Washington, D.C.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, FILE

Ryan is not alone: In many key states with crucial Senate, House and gubernatorial races, Democrats are carefully managing their association with the president, toeing the line between appearing too friendly with the White House, and breaking with him and a party who have consistently received low marks from voters on their handling of inflation and the economy.

"The more Republican-leaning the state is, the less likely [candidates] would want to appear with Biden and I think that makes a big difference," Democratic pollster and strategist Brad Bannon told ABC News, adding that there's also a secondary reason besides campaigning in swing states that may impact a candidate's decision to be seen with the president.

"Some candidates are trying to localize the elections, and, in some cases, you have Democrats who are running against very weak Republican candidates who may have won their party's nomination because they were so conservative," said Bannon. "They want the spotlight on their Republican opponent, not the president."

Rep. Ryan went as far as to categorize himself as an "independent" during an interview with Youngstown's WFMJ on Thursday, ahead of the president's arrival.

"Well, not really asking anybody. Like I just I'm not one of those guys like, 'Oh, I need someone to come in and help me.' I've been I've been doing this I know what I'm doing. I know what I believe in. I know where I'm from. I know who I'm fighting for. I don't need anyone else to like, you know, gum that message up."

When pressed by ABC News on whether he's renouncing his ties with the Democratic Party, Ryan backtracked, saying he's campaigning as an "independent-minded person."

"I'm running as an independent-minded person who's taken on President Obama, who's taken Nancy Pelosi, has taken on Bernie Sanders but also agreed with Trump on trade and China and General Mattis and other things," Ryan said."People want an independent-minded person, they don't want someone who's just going to pull the lever with their own party, and I will be capable of saying 'no' to my own party."

Biden was noticeably not as effusive as usual in his praise for Ryan at Friday's event, thanking him for his "leadership" and for "always representing the interests of working people."

During Thursday's WFMJ interview, Ryan notably highlighted the policy platforms he'd agreed with former President Trump on while pointing out the times he'd delineated from Biden, with whom he has voted with 100% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.

"I agree with Biden on CHIPS and infrastructure and some of these things," Ryan said. "I've agreed with, you know, Trump, for example, on China trade. I've agreed with Trump on renegotiating NAFTA, strong defense, space force, General Mattis, on those things."

This isn't the first time that Ryan has attempted to render a stark divide between himself and the president. When Biden announced his student loan forgiveness plan in August, Ryan distanced himself from the plan, saying it "sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet."

And when President Biden made a prime-time speech last Thursday denouncing "MAGA Republicans" and urging the country to unite against threats to American democracy, none of the Democratic Senate nominees that ABC News initially reached out to for responses reacted to the president's speech, with Ryan later telling ABC News at an Ohio State University game that "we all have to be extremely vocal about people who stormed the Capitol."

"I think we absolutely have to be very clear about speaking out about that," the congressman told ABC News.

Ryan also joins a growing sect of national Democrats who have publicly declared their opposition to something Biden and his administration has confirmed he would do for months -- run for a second White House term in 2024. He told WFMJ that "we need new leadership across the board" in response to a question on whether he believes Biden should declare another bid for the slot.

When pressed whether yes or no if he wants to see the president run again in 2024, Ryan told ABC News, "That's not up to me" and reiterated the need for "generational change."

"Guys like Mitch McConnell, these people have been there for a very long time," he added. "As we move out of this age of stupidity that we've been in officially long. I think it's time to hit the reset button and get people that don't want to focus on us being Americans first."

But the president's improvement in job rating and recent successful legislative efforts in Congress such as passing the CHIPS and Science Act, which the White House has said will help boost more American-made manufacturing as well as create more jobs, have changed the minds of some Democrats, who, Bannon said, just a couple of months ago may have steered away from appearing and associating themselves with the president.

"My guess is if Biden's job rating continues to improve, you'll see Rep. Ryan wanting more and more of the president instead of trying to distance himself," said Bannon.

In Wisconsin over the Labor Day weekend, as President Biden touted the power of union workers at a "Laborfest" in Milwaukee -- Democratic Senate nominee and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes was noticeably absent.

President Joe Biden speaks to a gathering of union workers at Laborfest on Sept. 5, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Barnes, who is facing off against Republican opponent and incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson, later told ABC affiliate WISN that he had a "pretty packed schedule," but that he was "grateful that the president has shown his support for the labor movement here in Wisconsin."

Bannon said Barnes' absence was "clearly a snub" but that the president is not the only reason why the lieutenant governor did not go to the speech.

"Barnes wants to very much the focus to be on Ron Johnson," said Bannon. "Because [Barnes] views Johnson as too extremist to many Wisconsin voters. I think [Barnes] wants this campaign to be a judgment on Ron Johnson. Not Joe Biden."

At a presser last week in Tempe, Arizona, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly told ABC News that on the issue of whether he wanted the president to come join him in the state before the general election, he said, "We welcome anybody to come out. We've got a lot of issues we're dealing with right now. Water, wildfires, being some of the top of my priority list."

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for governor, did not join the president at his second Labor Day stop in Pittsburgh, after appearing with Biden at an official White House event in Wilkes-Barre the previous week.

Shapiro did tell CNN in May that he would "welcome" Biden in Pennsylvania to campaign for him, adding that he is "focused on running a race here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, listening to the people of Washington County, not Washington, D.C."

Pennsylvania Senate hopeful John Fetterman appeared with Biden for the first time on Monday, after two prior visits by the president to the state. In a tweet, Fetterman's director of communications seemed to suggest some policy differences between the president and the candidate, including on the issue of marijuana decriminalization. Cavello said that, upon the men's first meeting on the campaign trail, they would discuss the topic.

"John will be marching in the Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh next week, and he looks forward to talking to the President there about the need to finally decriminalize marijuana," he said in a statement.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat in a competitive reelection race with Republican businessman Tim Michels, and Barnes marched in a "Laborfest" parade before the president's arrival in the city, with supporters asking for pictures and opportunities to shake hands with Barnes, the candidate several voters told ABC News will be "the next senator of Wisconsin."

In this Jan. 11, 2022, file photo, President Joe Biden and Sen. Raphael Warnock enter Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

In Georgia's Senate race, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock has also been on record distancing himself from President Biden as he fights for reelection, locked in a tight battle against former football star and GOP nominee Herschel Walker.

When pressed by ABC News at a campaign stop in Union City on Tuesday, Warnock wouldn't say if he supports Biden coming to Georgia to campaign for him.

"Frankly, I'm not focused on who I'm campaigning with but who I'm campaigning for," Warnock said. "That's why I spend time in places like Union City. Before this stop, I was in Newnan -- a place that folks don't expect Democrats to show up -- because I'm determined to represent all the people of Georgia."

That campaign strategy marks a departure from just last year, when Biden campaigned in Georgia for Sens. Warnock and Jon Ossoff during their runoff elections.

As for what strategy Bannon would give to his clients, he tells them to "take [their] chances with Biden."

"Because the reality is, anyway, they're going to be make a judgement that a Democrat is a supporter of the President, whether they campaigned together or not, and so that if you're a Democrat, they're going to judge you on how they feel about Biden anyway, so you might as well make the most and best of it."

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.