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Five questions as Biden readies for his reelection launch

President Biden could kick off his 2024 reelection campaign as soon as Tuesday, according to multiple news reports.

That day would be exactly four years since Biden launched his successful 2020 bid after previously failing to secure the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008.

Biden faces significant challenges in his bid for a second term. The public is generally dissatisfied with the state of the nation, he is the oldest president in American history and his approval ratings are mediocre.

In the FiveThirtyEight polling average as of Friday evening, Biden’s job performance earned the approval of just 42 percent of the public and the disapproval of 53 percent.

Here are some of the big questions Biden faces as he gets set to begin his quest for a second term.

How much enthusiasm can he generate?

Biden did not inspire any enormous amounts of passion in the 2020 primaries.

Rival candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) seemed to spark more fervor from their supporters than Biden. So too, for a while, did now-Vice President Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Of course, political passion isn’t everything. In 2020, Biden ground out a victory with support from more low-key supporters who just wanted a broadly acceptable candidate who could beat then-President Trump.

Still, the evidence is plain that key voting blocs have big qualms about a second Biden run.

In an Economist/YouGov survey this week, 28 percent of Democrats said they did not want him to run again.

A plurality of Americans under 30 were also against the idea of a second White House bid for Biden, 45 percent to 36 percent. 

Perhaps even more worryingly for the president — given the centrality of Black voters to his 2020 primary victory — 42 percent of Black respondents said they did not want him to run again, whereas only 30 percent did.

Of course, as it stands now, Biden is virtually guaranteed to be the Democratic nominee, and voters could well turn out simply to block his Republican opponent, whoever that should be.

But right now, the lack of enthusiasm for Biden is a serious cause for concern.

How hard will he hit the campaign trail?

Concerns around Biden’s age were already present four years ago. But he was saved from the worst rigors of the campaign trail by a twist of fate. 

The coronavirus pandemic severely curtailed the usual election-season whirl of rallies, retail politicking and arduous travel.

Barring something cataclysmic, it will be back to campaign-trail business as usual in the 2024 cycle.

Biden’s backers contend that he is able to maintain a schedule that exhausts staff members who are decades his junior, as was the case on his recent trip to Ireland.

Maybe so. But his age, and the eagerness of his opponents to keep a harsh spotlight on it, means that any verbal miscues will be amplified. And unlike 2020, Biden will be running while also having the responsibilities of the presidency weighing upon him.

That being so, he and his advisers could end up using some version of the famous “Rose Garden strategy” pioneered by President Ford half a century ago — using the White House and the trappings of office to make the case for a second term, rather than hitting the road extensively.

Will any primary challenger get traction at all?

There is at least one relatively bright spot for Biden. He appears to have dodged any really serious primary challengers.

The only two significant candidates so far are author and spiritualist Marianne Williamson, and Kennedy family scion Robert F. Kennedy Jr., best known as an anti-vaccine campaigner. 

No one really expects either of them to seriously endanger Biden’s bid for the Democratic nod.

That’s important, given the only two examples of serious challenges to an incumbent president in the past half-century. 

In 1992, conservative commentator Pat Buchanan tried to deprive President George H.W. Bush of the Republican nomination. And in 1980, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) sought to beat President Carter to become the Democratic standard-bearer.

Bush and Carter survived the primary challenges — but at a cost to their prestige and political capital. Each man went on to lose the general election.

How much does it matter who his opponent is?

Given Biden’s clear vulnerabilities headed into 2024, the identity of his GOP opponent could be decisive.

Right now, Trump is the clear favorite for the GOP— and that might be the best news possible for Biden.

The former president famously lost the popular vote in both his previous White House runs. Biden beat him by more than seven million votes in 2020. And the events of Jan. 6, 2021, have likely made Trump more toxic to at least some voters.

But what if Trump doesn’t win the GOP nomination? 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is just as capable of exciting the conservative base without bringing the chaos as Trump does. 

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.) face steep odds in the battle for the Republican nomination, but they could plausibly draw more moderate voters than either Trump or DeSantis.

A Wall Street Journal poll conducted from April 11-17 found Biden beating Trump by 3 percentage points, 48 percent to 45 percent, in a hypothetical head-to-head. The outcome was starkly different in a Biden-DeSantis match-up, with the Florida governor winning by three points.

How much will the economy help or hurt him?

The economy has been plain weird for much of Biden’s time in office so far.

On one hand, employment has rebounded strongly from the pandemic, sending the national unemployment rate to its lowest levels in decades. 

In January, the unemployment rate hit 3.4 percent, the lowest figure since 1969. 

The unemployment rate was 6.3 percent when Biden entered office. More than 10 million jobs have been added during his tenure.

But the president has not gotten huge credit for that, for two reasons. Firstly, employment gains may be dismissed by many Americans as a natural snapback from COVID-19. Secondly, the good news on jobs has been overshadowed by bad news on inflation.

Inflation appears to have hit its post-pandemic peak in June of last year, when it reached an annualized rate of 9.1 percent. It has since fallen to 5 percent.

The danger for Biden is that the rising interest rates used to counteract inflation have also raised the risk of recession.

Any specific predictions of where the economy will be even a year from now are almost destined to be wrong.

But Biden is showing some signs of recovery in terms of public perception of the issue.

The Economist/YouGov poll had a basically even split between voters approving of his performance on the economy, at 45 percent, and disapproving, at 46 percent.

Source: The Hill

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