A week before the midterm election, U.S. President Joe Biden pitched senior advisers on his closing argument to American voters — a sweeping address in which he’d once again insist that democracy itself was on the ballot.

It was a risky idea. A similar Biden speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia a month earlier bombed with critics, who panned it as partisan and dismissive of core voter concerns, including inflation. Some Democrats suggested afterward they might be better off without the president on the ticket in 2024, and his slumping approval rating and light campaign travel signaled that few congressional candidates wanted to be seen with him.

Yet Biden and his closest aides decided to forge ahead with another defense of democracy, hammering on the risks posed by election-deniers backed by his 2020 opponent, Donald Trump. It was an act of defiance to naysayers. But it paid off a week later with the best midterm performance by a president in two decades, as Democrats added to their Senate majority and left Republican rivals with a meager margin of control in the House.