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Potential Biden replacements forced to navigate tricky political terrain

Several top Democrats whose names have been floated as possible replacements for President Biden if he ends his reelection campaign are treading carefully and considering their own political futures as speculation over Biden’s future ramps up.  

Democratic figures including Vice President Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear have been rumored as possible replacements in recent days after Biden’s poor debate performance last week.

However, all of them have been quick to declare their support for the incumbent even as some Democrats call for Biden to withdraw, reflecting the complex political reality they face as they look to potentially lead the party in 2028.

“You can easily come across very poorly if you seem overanxious,” said TJ Rooney, former chair of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party. “Or you’re sitting at the dining room table looking at the turkey but you’re drooling from the mouth. That’s never a good look.” 

Many Democrats say the party’s rising stars are handling themselves well so far.  

“They’re handling this appropriately,” said Jamal Simmons, former communications director for Vice President Harris. “Everyone is for the president until the president makes another decision.” 

Harris is the obvious heir apparent to Biden should he ultimately choose to step down. Critics argue her low approval ratings could hurt Democrats’ chances, but a CNN poll released on Tuesday found that Harris actually does better in a head-to-head matchup with Trump than Biden.

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), a major Biden ally, said that while he is still standing behind the president, he would support Harris in the case that Biden stepped down.  

“This party should not in any way do anything to work around Ms. Harris. We should do everything we can to bolster her, whether it’s second place or at the top of the ticket,” Clyburn told MSNBC on Tuesday. 

Newsom, meanwhile, has been among the most prominent Democrats in the past few years, having gained a reputation as a fierce defender of Biden and for a willingness to spar with top Republicans throughout the country. His increasingly high profile raised some speculation early on in the 2024 cycle that he was interested in running for president if Biden stood down. 

He has repeatedly denied any interest in running this year, regularly pointing to Biden as the Democrats’ nominee. He was one of the first Democrats to defend Biden in the spin room following the debate and has stayed behind him since then. 

Newsom said in a fundraising pitch on Friday that “all this other talk” — an apparent reference to discussions of replacing Biden — is “unhelpful and unnecessary.” 

“You don’t turn your back because of one performance. What kind of party does that?” Newsom said in an interview on MSNBC after the debate. 

Whitmer, another top rising star, has also been the source of speculation in recent days. In a statement in response to a Politico story reporting that she called the Biden campaign to voice her support for the president but warned he could lose Michigan, the governor said she was fully behind the president.  

“I am proud to support Joe Biden as our nominee and I am behind him 100 percent in the fight to defeat Donald Trump,” she said. “Not only do I believe Joe can win Michigan, I know he can because he’s got the receipts.”

Whitmer, who was elected to her post in 2018, was among the women considered to serve as Biden’s running mate in 2020. She has since shown her political strength, leading Michigan’s Democratic candidates to victory in what was supposed to be a tough year for the party in 2022. Additionally, Whitmer has launched her Fight Like Hell PAC, which supports Democrats running for federal office.  

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D), also considered one of the party’s most prominent rising stars, spent the weekend campaigning for Biden in the critical swing state of Wisconsin.  

“One of the sentiments that we got while we were in Wisconsin was kind of refreshing,” one Maryland Democratic operative told The Hill. “People in that state are still fired up.”  

“Every room we went into was packed and you know, honestly, really the only time we heard about the debate was from the reporters who were there,” the operative said. “The guy on the ground were just talking about how much Trump lies.”  

When asked by reporters in Wisconsin why he was supporting Biden following the debate, Moore noted that Biden had a “tough debate but no one can argue that Donald Trump had a good presidency.”  

“This is a decision right now, this is a binary choice,” Moore said, referring to the Biden-vs.-Trump matchup. 

Some Democrats have also pointed to Josh Shapiro, another rising star and governor of the critical swing state of Pennsylvania, as a potential replacement.  

While Shapiro acknowledged Biden had “a bad debate,” he is also staying in line and supporting the president.  

However, the efforts come as Democrats and voters in general continue to voice concerns about Biden’s mental acuity and ability to serve as president for another four years.  

On Tuesday, Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) became the first House Democrat to call on Biden to step down from the Democratic ticket. And post-debate polling has not boded particularly well for Biden.  

Only a few polls have come out in the days following the debate, but the handful have shown Trump either maintaining his lead or gaining a few points over Biden. 

The same CNN poll released on Tuesday showed 75 percent of registered voters said that Democrats had a better chance of beating Trump with someone else as their candidate.  

Also notable, a Saint Anselm College poll of New Hampshire showed Trump leading Biden by 2 points after its last poll of the state had Biden up by 10. The state has leaned Democratic in the most recent national elections, not voting for a Republican presidential candidate since 2004. 

A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll showed no change in Trump’s lead before and after the debate, but he’s still ahead of Biden by 6 points in a matchup including the third-party and independent candidates. 

The aftermath of Biden’s performance coupled with some of the polling numbers that have come out haven’t done much to quell talks of other possible replacements for Biden. 

And for the first time this cycle, many Democrats seem to be publicly acknowledge the possibility of a contested convention.  

“I expect President Biden will still be the nominee of the Democratic Party,” Simmons said. “If for some reason he is not the nominee of the Democratic Party, we should think very seriously about having a contested convention.” 

Simmons argued that a contested convention would allow Democrats to see the candidates, who have not consistently been on the campaign trail this cycle, “in action.” 

“If there are negatives about these candidates, it would be much more helpful to learn those negatives before the candidates are chosen than to leave it up to Donald Trump to reveal negatives about candidates later,” he said.  

When asked whether there was risk in having a competitive, contested convention, Simmons responded, “Everything is a risk.”

Source: The Hill

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