It shouldn’t be a hard question for Democrats. Should President Joe Biden run for re-election? At this point in a President’s first term, the answer from loyal members of the party is usually an unequivocal yes. But some Democrats continue to dodge the question, reluctant to give a full-throated endorsement for Biden in 2024.
“I’m not having that conversation,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said with a laugh when asked by a reporter in mid-September.
The sidestepping reflects a tension in the party around Biden heading into the midterms. He’s the oldest sitting President ever and will turn 80 on Nov. 20, with two more years left to go in his first term. His approval ratings have ticked up from the high 30s over the summer, but are still hovering in the low 40s and underwater. He’s facing political headwinds from high inflation and a sputtering stock market, and is struggling to convince a broad swath of the country that their lives will be better off after he landed major legislative accomplishments on stemming climate change and reducing medical costs.
Recent polling has shown Biden’s support within his party has started to rebound, reaching 78% approval among Democratic voters, up from 65% in July, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
“A lot of folks were unsure about how we were going to finish, but Biden always finishes strong,” says Ashley Etienne, a former communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris. “There is also a desire to give the President and the party the room and space to make the decision.”
Still, many Democrats in office and on the campaign trail are not exactly clamoring for him to run, preferring to keep the party’s options open. And the answer to the question of “Will Biden run again?” gains greater significance with each passing week, as Democrats privately weigh the odds for other potential contenders for the office such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
In 2020, Biden had to convince much of his party that he was the right candidate to keep President Donald Trump from winning a second term. He insisted at times that he was the only Democrat who could do the job. Now, as Trump has all but announced he intends to vie again for the office, whether Biden is again the Democrat to potentially take him on is a matter of debate within the party.
Read more: How Joe Biden Won the White House
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi left open plenty of space for Biden to decide he doesn’t want to run when she was asked about it at a Sept. 22 news conference. The President ”did a great service to our country: he defeated Donald Trump. Let’s not forget that,” Pelosi said. “He cares about the air we breathe, the water we drink, the education of our children, jobs for their families, pensions for their seniors. Any subject you can name.”
“I’m not going into politics about whether the President should run or not,” she added.
Other senior Democrats have said Biden has their support. “I have said if he runs, I’ll support him,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters in July. Newsom told ABC News in August that he was “pro-Biden” and “team Biden,” trying to tamp down speculation that he is planning his own bid for the Oval Office in 2024.
But rank-and-file voters aren’t as fully on board. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in late September found that some 56% of Democrats and independents that tend to vote for Democrats said they wanted “someone other than Biden” to run on the Democratic ticket in 2024.
That sentiment is showing itself on the campaign trail as well. Democrats in tough races have been especially reluctant to say Biden should definitely seek another term. The day before the President traveled to Ohio for the groundbreaking of a semiconductor plant in early September, Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running for Senate against the Trump-backed J.D. Vance, was asked by a local television news station, if Biden should run again.
“My hunch is that we need new leadership across the board —Democrats, Republicans, I think it’s time for a generational move,” Ryan said.
When asked by TIME in mid-September if Biden should come to Alaska to campaign with Rep. Mary Peltola as she defends the seat she won in an August special election, Peltola demurred: “I’d like to take a wait-and-see approach. I don’t know what is on the horizon.” Asked if Biden should run for re-election, Peltola said, “I don’t have an opinion on that right now.”
Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips was more blunt at the end of July when asked if he thinks Biden should run again: “I don’t.” Phillips added in an interview on the Chad Hartman radio show on WCCO-AM, “I think the country would be well served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats to step up.” Fellow Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig voiced similar reservations the following month in an interview with MinnPost, saying, “I would say we need new leaders in Washington up and down the ballot in the Democratic Party.”
If Biden were to make his re-election run official, it would amplify the debate about his age. Questions were raised again about the President’s mental sharpness this week, when, during a White House conference on hunger, he asked “Where’s Jackie?” and looked around for the Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, who died in a car accident in August.
Biden himself has said he intends to run again, but some in his party have wondered how serious he is. A President who knows he is only going to serve one term might insist he is running again anyway to maintain political influence, at least through the midterm elections.
Asked in a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sept. 18, Biden said he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy because then a host of requirements kick in under the country’s election laws. But he also allowed for the possibility he simply might not run again. “It’s much too early to make that kind of decision. I’m a great respecter of fate. And so, what I’m doing is, I’m doing my job, we’re going to do that job and within the time frame that makes sense after this next election cycle here, going into next year, make a judgment on what to do,” Biden said. “My intention as I said to begin with is that I would run again, but it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”
While Biden holds off on making a final decision, a tight group of aides at the Democratic National Committee have been preparing for a potential Biden run. The President gave a preview this month of what his re-election campaign might look like at a Democratic National Committee event in Washington on Sept. 23, delivering a forceful, campaign-style speech in which he criticized Republicans while moving back and forth on stage with a handheld microphone. “The MAGA Republicans didn’t side with law enforcement; they sided with the insurrectionists—and they still do,” Biden said. “Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you can’t condemn what happened on January the 6th. Don’t tell me that.” he added.
The song that played as he left the auditorium? It was Daft Punk’s, “One More Time.”
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