Biden’s age and political headwinds spur talk of 2024 alternative
Washington Times, The (DC)
The White House insists President Biden will run in 2024 but speculation is rampant that he will pass the baton to someone on the Democratic bench.
Top prospects include Vice President Kamala Harris, members of the Cabinet and governors such as Phil Murphy of New Jersey who sees his state as a roadmap for a national Democratic agenda.
Mr. Biden would be 82 years old at the start of a second term and his approval numbers are stuck underwater amid high inflation, the unrelenting coronavirus and crises such as an infant formula shortage.
“I expect Biden to run for reelection. Any hint that he won’t would be counterproductive. Why would he make himself a lame duck any sooner than he absolutely has to?” said David Yepsen, retired Iowa political reporter for the Des Moines Register and IowaPBS.
“But it's not crazy talk given his age, his halting performances on television and his poor job approval ratings,” he said. “Depending on how bad the Democratic losses are in the midterms — and they could be substantial — he may well opt not to run again. Or he may be so weak that some progressive may decide to take him on.”
There is a roster of Democrats who could emerge as heirs to the party throne because of name recognition or a track record of winning smaller contests. Each of them might inherit the headwinds that Mr. Biden faces now, however, or struggle to cobble support from a party that’s sharply divided between progressives and moderates.
Far-left champions Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernard Sanders of Vermont have a proven track record of rallying the progressive base and ran in 2020. Prognosticators say they’d be in the mix if Mr. Biden gives way or his left flank demands a challenger.
Mr. Sanders is even older than Mr. Biden, raising doubts about a third run, though a Sanders adviser reportedly wrote an April memo saying the progressive icon “has not ruled out another run for president.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, came up short in the last presidential primary but could reengage, especially with upper Midwest voters who have an outsized influence on the Electoral College map.
Naturally, any talk of a Biden heir begins with Vice President Kamala Harris. She made history as the first female to hold the office. She’s also first in the line of succession for the top job.
There’s a problem, however. Her approval numbers are lagging, her office is in constant turmoil and she has struggled with an ambitious portfolio of thorny issues such as immigration and voting rights.
Political analysts said Democrats’ tendency to focus on identity would make it difficult for a rival to nudge a woman of color like Ms. Harris aside, leaving everyone in a period of stasis.
“No white guy or gal wants to big-foot her but there is a lot of eager talent out there,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University. “But they all have to wait until the old guy makes his move.”
A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll this month found Ms. Harris tops the list of preferred candidates if Mr. Biden decides not to run, attracting 19% from Democratic and independent voters compared to 10% apiece for Mr. Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was third at 7%. He is a member of the Cabinet and a young star in the party who showed prowess in Iowa by winning its caucus during the last presidential primary.
But Democrats often grumble that Iowa isn’t representative of the party, and the 2020 count was a mess. The party might pivot to New Hampshire or another state to kick off the 2024 voting.
Plus, Mr. Buttigieg will face questions about his performance at the Transportation Department.
“If he decides to run he’s going to have to explain why the supply chain challenges that occurred on his watch were not his fault and not that bad,” said Colin Reed, a GOP strategist who served as a spokesman for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who ran for president in 2016. “I would just put one strike against anyone who is in or can be associated with the Biden administration.”
Trickle-down problems for Cabinet members would also impact Gina Raimondo, the ex-Rhode Island governor and current Commerce Department secretary who is gaining buzz in the news media as a business-savvy centrist who could make waves in 2024, though would struggle to win over progressives.
Outside of Washington, Stacey Abrams is the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor and an advocate for voting rights. She's locked in a tough race this year against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who defeated her in 2018 and will attack her for recently saying Georgia is “the worst state in the country to live.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer offered the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address but she must fight for reelection this year and faced vocal backlash over her COVID-19 restrictions.
Whether any of these contenders will get a shot in 2024 is a Washington parlor game at this point.
Mr. Biden last year said he will run again so long as he is healthy, and that he would relish a rematch with former President Donald Trump if the Republican gives it another try.
“The president has every intention of running for reelection,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in December.
Mr. Biden also told his former boss, ex-President Barack Obama, in April that he planned to seek reelection, according to The Hill.
Mr. Biden would likely face a more traditional campaign in 2024 than in 2020 when he stayed out of the spotlight due to the pandemic. And he would have to run on his record instead of making it a complete referendum on Mr. Trump.
While Mr. Biden got a long-sought infrastructure plan into law, his exit from Afghanistan was chaotic, his broader agenda is bogged down in Congress and the viral variants continue to trip up the path to normalcy.
Taken together, the mounting crises have prompted whispers of someone else taking the reins. There’s always the possibility that a celebrity will emerge, and people won’t stop talking about Michelle Obama —who remains popular among Democrats — even though the former first lady says she has no interest in running for office.
In the Garden State, Mr. Murphy is quick to paint his agenda in Trenton as a roadmap for the nation. In last year's reelection campaign he touted efforts to lift the minimum wage in the state to $15 per hour by 2024, boost a well-funded public school system and impose a “millionaire’s tax” to fund health care, education and infrastructure initiatives.
“If you want to know what the future looks like folks, come to New Jersey. If you want to understand where America is heading, look to New Jersey,” Mr. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, said in November after defeating a tough GOP opponent.
The rhetoric, plus a victory that made him the first Democratic governor to win reelection in New Jersey in over four decades, sparked murmurs about a possible run despite the governor’s denials.
“I’m not running. I’m not running. Jesus, Lord, help me,” Mr. Murphy told NJ Advance Media in January. Asked if he would consider jumping into a primary if Mr. Biden decides not to run, the governor said: “I don’t see it.”
“Listen, based on everything I’m hearing, he’s running again,” he told the newspaper.
Mr. Reed, the former Christie spokesman, said Mr. Murphy “probably looks in the mirror and sees a potential president.”