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The Memo: Democrats cast around for 2024 alternatives to Biden


Democratic gloom is deepening as the party looks toward November’s midterms and beyond. 

The bleak outlook is engendered in part by a grim political environment marked by historically high inflation, elevated gas prices and pandemic fatigue. 

But the Democratic depression is sharpened by concerns over whether President Biden is really the man for the moment, given his advancing age — he turns 80 in November — and his preference for consensus-building over the frontal political combat many in his party would prefer.

Yet, for all that, Biden has one sizable factor weighing in his favor. There’s no clear-cut rival who could steal the 2024 mantle away from him.

The appetite for change is obvious. A New York Times/Siena College poll released this week found just 26 percent of Democrats wanted Biden to carry the party’s banner again in 2024. Sixty-four percent would prefer someone else to be the party’s nominee. 

There’s just no agreement on who that someone might be. 

Many Democrats are reluctant to speak ill of an incumbent president on the record. But there is no mistaking the black mood.

“Biden should not be and cannot be the nominee in 2024,” said one Democratic strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “It’s as obvious as day to anyone who is being objective and honest that the president is too old to be president. It’s that simple.”

Yet the same strategist lamented that “there is no bench. That’s the catastrophic thing.”

It’s not as if there is a shortage of Democrats who might see themselves in the top job — even if some of them need Biden to step aside first.

The clearest example is Vice President Harris. The first woman and the first Black person to serve in her role, she would be the obvious option if Biden opted against running for a second term.

But Harris is beset by her own problems, including approval ratings that are not appreciably better than her boss’s, an indifferent performance in office, and memories of an underwhelming 2020 presidential campaign.

Other high-profile options include a raft of figures who also contested the 2020 nomination, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), as well as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Sanders’ 2020 campaign manager put out a memo in April underlining that the Vermonter had not ruled out another run for presidency, though he was equally clear that he would not subject Biden to a primary.

But Sanders is older than Biden, would be running for the presidency for a third time, and faces the perennial questions about the electability of a self-proclaimed democratic socialist.

Warren, Klobuchar and Buttigieg all have their fervent supporters, but they all also have vulnerabilities. The arguments against each can be boiled down as too far left, too uninspiring and too inexperienced, respectively.

Some Democrats are casting an eye toward governors and other figures who have not yet become national figures.

Murshed Zaheed, a former senior aide to the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), argued it is “imperative” for Democrats to have a 2024 nominee who is “not tethered to the Biden administration.”

Asked if he would favor a primary challenge to Biden, Zaheed was emphatic. 

“Absolutely,” he said, predicting that the appetite for such a challenge was so keen that an insurgent could raise vast sums of campaign cash.

Zaheed remains enthusiastic about Warren, whom he backed in 2020, but he also talked up the chances of a trio of governors: California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

Newsom set tongues wagging over the Independence Day holiday when he ran TV ads in Florida attacking the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. There’s no obvious reason for the California governor to spend money on the other side of the country unless to put his name in the 2024 frame.

Newsom amplified the speculation further with a high-profile visit to Washington this week.

Even so, there are plenty of Democrats who wonder whether a wealthy Californian is really their ticket to victory in the key states that decide a presidential election.

The list of 2024 possibilities grows longer by the day, including other governors like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and North Carolina’s Roy Cooper.

Then there are exciting, but apparently fanciful, ideas like a bid by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

Ocasio-Cortez is perhaps the single most charismatic figure in the party and has enormous appeal to young progressives. But she would also face big questions about her national electability and her youth. The New York congresswoman is, however, eligible for the presidency for the first time at the next election — she turns 35, the minimum age, in October 2024.

Even so, some on the left are arguing that their movement should focus more on shifting Biden’s administration in a more progressive direction than on a 2024 primary challenge.

“I know he intends running for re-election and I think it is less than likely that a super-viable progressive challenger emerges,” said Vincent Vertuccio, an organizer who works at the intersection of electoral politics and progressive movements.

“It’s really a question of whether the White House is going to make the shifts to make him a viable candidate again,” Vertuccio added. 

He pointed to Biden’s failure to take more expansive action on student loans, his selling of new oil and gas leases, and his response to the striking down of Roe v. Wade as among the actions that have sapped his approval ratings among young voters, in particular.

Of course, there are others who argue just the opposite — that Biden became too identified with the left early on in his time in office, disappointing independent voters who believed they were electing a reassuring, centrist figure after four years of former President Trump’s tumult.

For now, Biden repeats that he intends to run again. A proud man, he bristles at suggestions that his party might cast him aside.

But others look at his performance, and the polls, and think the party could be ready to do something drastic.

According to Zaheed, “There is this anti-D.C. establishment energy and it is there for somebody to take it — especially if the Democrats and Biden continue to sputter, and it looks like there is no way out.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Source: The Hill

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