Aug 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems dodge on Biden '24

Correction: This table has been corrected to reflect that Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman are lieutenant governors, not senators. Data: Axios research; Table: Axios Visuals

A startling number of lawmakers in President Biden's own party have been unwilling in recent days to say he should seek re-election in 2024, amid gnawing fears he'll be too old or unpopular to win.

Why it matters: Backing your own party's first-term president is usually so automatic that no one would bother to ask. But behind the scenes, there's a very real concern that going all in on Biden could be a mistake.

Reality check: Some Democrats privately don't want Biden to run again, for three reasons:

  1. He's deeply unpopular. Many Americans associate him with inflation, high gas prices, entrenched COVID-19 and an inglorious end to the war in Afghanistan.
  2. Progressives want a move away from centrism and convention.
  3. Many Democratic voters want generational change. Biden was older when he took office than Ronald Reagan was when he left office. If re-elected, Biden would be 86 at the end of his second term.

Driving the news: Just this week, two high-ranking New York Democrats cast doubt on the president's future.

  • Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney were asked, during a Democratic primary debate for the 12th congressional district, whether Biden should run again in 2024. Neither would answer in the affirmative.
  • That followed a refusal by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to commit to Biden '24 while trying to get a climate change deal over the finish line, and flat-out "no"s to Biden '24 from two House Democrats in Minnesota during local interviews.

Yes, but: Some strategists see all this as a misdirection of Democrats' nervous energy.

  • "The chatter right now is more about anxiety about '22 than '24, and it is not really helpful for Democrats," David Axelrod, director of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics and a former senior adviser to President Obama, told Axios. "This is a Washington parlor game."
  • "Now's not the time for the conversation. What voters say about an election two years and change away is about as meaningful as the Farmer's Almanac."
  • Biden's age is "an issue he'll have to consider and, if he runs, he'll have to confront. But he doesn't have to right now."

The outcome of November contests and whether Democrats lose control of one or both chambers of Congress is likely to shape Biden's fate.

  • There's no party consensus around how to have a what's-next conversation, or who could be the strongest alternative if Biden ultimately decided not to pursue a second term.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris has the standing as Biden's No. 2 but faces concerns about her popularity within her own party as well as her general election prospects.

By the numbers: Biden's overall approval rating with Americans has sunk to 39%.

  • Only one in four Democratic voters said they'd want him to run again in 2024, per a July poll from The New York Times and Siena College.
  • Age and job performance were the top factors. Roughly 94% of Democrats under 30 don't want him to be the nominee next time.

What they're saying: Democrats running competitive statewide campaigns in swing states are quick when asked about Biden to refocus on the issues they say voters want their party to address — like abortion access, the economy and inflation, crime and gun violence.

  • John Fetterman's Senate campaign told Axios: “Pennsylvanians care about whether they have a senator who's actually from Pennsylvania, understands their struggles, and will actually fight for abortion rights and to combat inflation.”
  • Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told us he is "more focused on lowering costs for Nevadans and continuing our state's quick economic recovery," but that he would support Biden's re-election.
  • "Biden is the leader of our party and if he runs again I'll support him, but if he's going to win Ohio back in 2024 I'd urge him to keep a laser focus on lowering costs for working families - which is exactly what I'm doing in this race," Nan Whaley, running for Ohio governor, told Axios.
  • Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, "takes the president at his word" that he's running again. His campaign told Axios that Shapiro is more focused on whether his GOP opponent Doug Mastriano, if elected, would discard legitimate votes in 2024 if he didn't like the outcome.

A handful of vocal House Democrats have been clear they don't think President Biden should — or will — run again.

  • Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) told a local radio show last week: "I think the country would be well served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats who step up," after replying "no" to the question of whether he would support Biden in 2024.
  • Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) told MinnPost: "I think Dean Phillips and I are in lockstep and alignment with that, and I’m going to do everything in my power as a member of Congress to make sure that we have a new generation of leadership."
  • Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) told Axios he has heard rumblings on the Hill that some want younger leadership, even though he doesn't agree with that. "If the president decides not to run again obviously it’s going to be game on," Rep. Kildee said. "But he’s got to make that decision.”
  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said — on two separate occasions — that she doesn't believe Biden will run for president again. She has since clarified that she wants him to run, but maintained during a CNN interview on Thursday: "I happen to think you [Biden] won't be running."
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