© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One upon departure from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, U.S., to campaign in New Mexico and California, November 3, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By Trevor Hunnicutt
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden appealed to young voters in New Mexico on Thursday as part of his final major campaign swing ahead of midterm elections that the White House seeks to turn into a referendum on Republicans, and Republicans into a vote on Biden.
Biden’s three-day tour began in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, where he spoke at a community college on his cancellation of billions of dollars in student debt.
The president addressed students in a safe congressional district for Democrats as polls showed New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham leading Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti, a former television weatherman, by around six percentage points.
New Mexico’s contests echo political battles nationwide.
Lujan Grisham has made maintaining access to abortion the centerpiece of her campaign. Ronchetti proposes banning the procedure after 15 weeks, and has hammered Lujan Grisham on crime.
Biden said his student debt policies and Lujan Grisham’s free college tuition program, among the largest in the country, were designed to encourage young Americans to get skills they needed to compete in a modern economy.
“You represent the best of us, the very best of us,” Biden told students at Central New Mexico Community College, where he also said people should not be imprisoned for marijuana possession and vowed another attempt to ban assault weapons. “Your generation is not going to be ignored, you will not be shunned, you will not be silenced.”
Biden’s group then crossed the Rio Grande river to address a rally in the state’s second congressional district where incumbent Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell is in a close battle with Democratic challenger Gabe Vasquez.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the nearby Laguna Pueblo Native American tribe, encouraged voters to cast their ballots in New Mexico’s only U.S. congressional district in Republican hands.
“We have five days left to make sure that we get every single voter to the polls, because you know that the Republicans are catching up to us, and we can’t let that happen,” Haaland told hundreds of supporters inside a community center in Albuquerque’s South Valley as crowds watched outside on a big screen.
Biden heads to California on Thursday evening and Illinois on Friday before traveling to Pennsylvania on Saturday for a rally with former President Barack Obama. He will appear at a rally in Maryland on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s congressional elections.
He plans to contrast his economic plan with a Republican push to roll back loan forgiveness, the White House said.
Biden, whose job approval percentage rating in the low 40s is a drag on Democratic candidates, is fighting to help his party hold off a strong challenge mounted by Republicans for control of the U.S. Congress.
Polls show Republicans are widely expected to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate as well, as voters worry about the state of the U.S. economy and inflation. Opposition parties historically fare better in midterm elections, providing a balance for new presidents in the second half of their terms.
Biden warned on Wednesday night that Republican loyalists to former President Donald Trump are a threat to democracy as they refuse to say they will accept the results of elections if they are defeated on Tuesday.