Democrats Reluctant About Biden 2024, But They See No Other Choice

At 80, President Biden is already the oldest American president ever. (Washington Post/Demetrius Freeman)

(The Washington Post) — The leftover pizza was divvied up, the Girl Scout cookies had been exchanged, and the Democrats of North Fulton County sat and chatted about an issue that had been in the back of their minds for months: President Biden’s future.

There was no question that the people in the room — dedicated Democrats who’d gathered in Johns Creek, Ga., to talk strategy and advance the party’s aims — would vote for Biden in the general election. But the cold pizza-fueled debate was about the people outside the room: the friends and family and neighbors they would try to convince, again, to vote for him and other Democrats in 2024.

Debi Watson, a 66-year-old retired paralegal, said she thought of them when she heard on the radio about the 80-year-old president stumbling on the stairs of Air Force One, afraid that a tumble will hurt him – and the electoral chances of the party he leads.

“I noticed in speeches when he gets off script, then he starts to make mistakes. I am worried about his health, and I don’t know how much I like [Vice President] Kamala Harris if something happens to him,” Watson said.

But Erin Elwood, 38, a councilperson from Johns Creek, countered that Biden’s age might not be the disqualifier people around the table feared. As a newly-purple state, Georgia has seen a blinding national spotlight, wearing out voters, party insiders and volunteers tired of the roller coaster. A slow and steady Biden, while unexciting, might be a recipe for victory in 2024, particularly if Republicans nominate a candidate seen by many as extreme.

“It’s been a really exhausting four years,” said Elwood, who identified as a centrist. “Yes, Biden is a boring old guy, but he’s going to win North Fulton because he’s a boring old guy — and he’s not perceived as radical.”

As Biden gears up to run for a second term, with aides targeting a Tuesday video announcement, polls and dozens of interviews show most of his party does not want him to be their nominee. But the lack of enthusiasm is tempered by another widespread motivator working in Biden’s favor: The determination to prevent a second Donald Trump term or the ascent of another Trump-like politician.

From Atlanta to Avondale, Ariz., Democrats this spring have collectively voiced both sentiments. The Washington Post conducted interviews in recent weeks with more than 130 Democrats in five battleground states that powered Biden’s 2020 victory. Across a wide range of demographic and ideological groups that make up the Democratic coalition, the reactions revealed a party accepting Biden as its standard-bearer — but only reluctantly.

Across eight national polls in 2022 and 2023, an average of 38 percent of Democrats want Biden to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024 — while a 57 percent majority want to nominate someone else. During Trump’s first term, an average of 73 percent of Republicans wanted the GOP to renominate him. An average of 75 percent of Democrats wanted to renominate Barack Obama during his first presidential term. There is no indication at this early stage that Biden will face any major primary challengers.

Biden showed an ability in 2020 to draw support from independents who turned away from the GOP. But he also had a strong backing from his party’s voters, whom he will need to reinvigorate in 2024. Democrats The Post interviewed generally said they saw Biden as an effective president, but expressed frustration with some unfulfilled promises, anxiety about his ability to understand the priorities of a diversifying country and, running through it all, unease about Biden’s age.

At 80, Biden is already the oldest American president ever and he would be 86 at the end of a second term. Many said they are concerned he would be easily caricatured by critics, particularly if he is pitted against a younger, more vibrant opponent.

The worries come after what the administration has billed as a historically productive period. Biden has enacted an array of Democratic priorities including a sweeping pandemic relief package, a measure to repair and replace aging infrastructure and far-reaching legislation aimed at fighting climate change, increasing American competitiveness and stanching inflation.

“President Biden inherited the worst crises in generations and turned them around to deliver unprecedented job growth, the biggest climate investments in history – which are reshoring manufacturing to America — Medicare’s new power to negotiate lower drug costs, and the restoration of our alliances in the world,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates in a statement. “He’s standing up for mainstream values like the restoration of Roe v. Wade and against extreme MAGA efforts to sell out middle class families to rich special interests.”

Almost all the Democrats The Post interviewed said they would vote for Biden in a general election and some conceded that, while he was far from their first choice, he might be the best option for the current moment — a contrast to a Republican Party promoting grievance and combativeness.

Trump has sounded vengeful notes as his legal peril has intensified. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has declared war on the left and enacted polarizing policies, is shaping up as Trump’s most formidable GOP rival. At 76, Trump also faces questions about whether he is too old to be an effective president, in contrast to DeSantis, who is 44.

Biden is the only person who has defeated Trump in a national election, but many Democrats saw him as a caretaker president, who would make way for a new generation of leaders.

Together, these dynamics set the stage for a central question confronting Democrats in the next election: Will fear of GOP extremism be enough to overcome anxieties about Biden?

– – –

Frustrated Over Unfulfilled Promises

ATLANTA — Dontaye Carter was more than willing to share his opinion about Biden, the 2024 election and the fate of the republic, but first he had a more pressing matter: his daughter Kyleigh needed a snack.

As Kyleigh munched on apples and grapes, but kept her distance from the wedge of white cheese, her father put an educational video on her tablet and adjusted her pink headphones shaped like cat ears. Then he explained how the fates of his 5-year-old daughter and his octogenarian president are intertwined.

Carter, a leader in the Fulton County Democratic Party and former mayoral candidate, has had Kyleigh tagging along to political events since she was in diapers. She will come of age in the state where he is fighting against voter suppression, for women’s rights and to enact police and criminal-justice overhauls. Carter fears every promise that Biden doesn’t deliver on will be dumped onto his daughter’s generation.

“We want real fundamental legislative change, period,” he said after telling Kyleigh that no, she doesn’t have to eat the white cheese. “I don’t want to jump through hoops to vote, just so my voice is heard. I don’t want my little girl in 13 years to be jumping through those same hoops just to get her voice heard. [Georgians] appreciate being centered in this conversation. We appreciate Biden coming here. We appreciate Harris coming here as much as they have, but come here with some receipts.”

Carter said that nationally Democrats have made few inroads cementing the right to vote, even after Biden and others said it was a top-of-the-platform issue. And the Supreme Court scuttled women’s rights during Biden’s presidency.

There have been signs of broader discontent among black voters such as Carter, in Georgia and beyond. A January Atlanta-Journal Constitution/University of Georgia poll found 65 percent of black Georgia voters approved of Biden overall, down from 92 percent when Biden first took office. When Biden and Harris came to Atlanta to announce a push to protect voting rights, several key voting rights groups boycotted the event.

People voted to see Biden enact substantive change in an inequitable America, Carter said. He would know, because he was the one asking them to get out and vote.

“We knocked doors. We made phone calls. We sent text messages. We got up here and we did toy drives, we dropped turkeys off — everything. Everything that we needed to do to turn the election we did. I don’t know if I’m seeing him give the same blood, sweat and tears that we gave when we worked overtime in that runoff.”

The 2021 runoffs, weeks after Biden’s victory in the presidential race, helped Democrats clinch the Senate majority. With full control of Congress and the White House, many in the party hoped they would have a freer hand to enact Democratic priorities.

For Carter, Biden — who was the first Democratic presidential nominee in 28 years to win Georgia — is an impediment to rallying the very voters he urged to turn out.

“When activists tell you we’re having a tough time getting people to the polls, it’s because people are still [angry] and asking the question, ‘When are you going to do what you said you were going to do?'” he said. “How do I go back into these neighborhoods where I told folks that this time it was going to be different and I don’t have any receipts to show the difference?”

A Vote Against Extremism

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. — On a balmy midweek afternoon, Sarah Aronson sat on the sun-drenched patio behind a neighborhood coffee shop about 15 miles outside Philadelphia, with two other women she met volunteering with the local Democratic Party.

When it came to campaigns, before 2020 Aronson, 37, a new mom on her second month of maternity leave from her marketing job, had only ever participated in the one for her husband Yaniv Aronson, mayor of Conshohocken.

“I was just very afraid for our country in 2020. And I clung to that. Like I definitely felt as if I became a fangirl,” Aronson said of her support for Biden. “I will call it out. I still couldn’t recover from Trump having been elected. I was numb from that.”

“Yes, yes. There was PTSD from that,” Shannon Baudoin-Rea, 36, said, nodding from across the table.

Biden “gave me something to believe in, like making a $25 donation to him gave me some hope, right?” Aronson continued. “I believed all of what he had to say.”

These days, she’s less enamored, frustrated by the give-and-take of governing and what she sees as Biden’s passivity on issues like women’s rights. But even though she says, “The charm has worn off,” she still believes that Biden is the Democrats’ best option in 2024.

Suburban women supported Biden by 56 percent to 43 percent over Trump in 2020 according to national network exit polls, nearly doubling Hillary Clinton’s seven-point advantage in 2016. That helped him win states like Pennsylvania in 2020.

When asked whether Biden should run next year, the three women laughed nervously. “Who wants to start?” Baudoin-Rea said. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Anne Loftus, 70, chimed in.

“He’s old, all right? He’s old. However, think for a minute of what happened the last two-and-a-half years. Who else could have done what he did? Who else has the contacts? He is an unbelievable manager,” Loftus said.

Baudoin-Rea, a local Democratic committeewoman, wishes there was a more exciting, Obama-like candidate, but has accepted there isn’t. “I think my view is like, I’m not opposed. I’m not excited. Will I vote for him? Absolutely. Will I campaign for him? Of course. Am I, like, thrilled? Am I, like, giddy to see him run again? No,” she said.

Biden “doesn’t energize me,” Aronson said. “He’s safe, he’s safe. But, I think that’s probably what we need right now.”

“I’m okay with safe,” said Loftus, who is also an elected Democratic committeewoman.

“Yes, I’d rather that than go to the alternative,” Aronson said. “Nobody wants extreme right now.”

Aronson said she was shocked by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and sees signs of ideological pendulum swings she believes damaged the country. Trump appointed three of the justices who supported overturning Roe.

“You don’t want someone who gets nominated that becomes unpalatable. Then all of a sudden we end up with Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump,” Loftus said.

She added: “It’s easy to get excited when you have a boogeyman.”

Eager for a Leader From a Newer Generation

Madison, Wis. — Between classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sorority sisters Avery Byrnes, 19, and Paige Mikkelson, 18, stopped for smoothies at a food truck outside the school’s 70-year-old Memorial Library.

The university is in deep blue Dane County, where Biden’s improvement on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance (he won roughly 3 in 4 voters there) helped propel his win in Wisconsin. The school has been the setting for both large political rallies and small, intimate conversations — like the one the young women were having about a president a decade older than the building before them.

“I don’t even know if he’ll make it to 2024, like he’s just old — not even to be dark,” said Byrnes, a freshman from California. “I think presidents shouldn’t be older than like 70; your brain starts to go.”

Mikkelson added, “The older you get, it’s almost like, the less informed you are about things.” In her view, it would be a good idea for Biden to step aside, “especially if he wants the Democratic Party to do well and win again.”

Young voters turned out in record numbers in 2020, backing Biden by a large margin. Voters under the age of 30 supported Biden by a 24-point margin nationally according to network exit polls in a year where Census Bureau data showed turnout of young people rose nine percentage points from the previous presidential election.

But young voters in this area had a long list of people they’d like to see in the White House who are not named Biden: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.); former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams; former first lady Michelle Obama; Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; and maybe Vice President Harris. Two people even recommended first term North Carolina Rep. Jeff Jackson, a social-media star.

Amid Biden’s continued assertions that he intends to seek reelection, none of them are running or have expressed public interest in a 2024 run.

More than two dozen voters, many of them current or former students, were divided on whether Biden gave Democrats their best chance to succeed. Mostly, they lamented that the “best” option is someone six decades removed from their own experience.

Many said their concerns about Biden’s age are not about his ability to do the job, but about concerns that a white man in his 80s is less representative of them than he is of their grandparents.

Jason Rivera, 22, a senior at UW-Madison, said he worries that Biden will grow increasingly out of touch with the people he represents, particularly the youngest generation of voters.

“A lot of older people are governing the lives of things they don’t — people they don’t understand,” said Rivera. “And they’re not willing to be open minded too, sometimes.”

Several of the young voters stressed that was particularly the case when it came to fighting climate change. And many felt that Biden wouldn’t drive turnout — or energize young people to volunteer and organize. Fear of a Republican candidate might motivate people, but there was a general feeling that Biden and his party took young voters for granted.

“He likes putting on glasses and eating ice cream. Does that get people out?” asked Eli Tsarovsky, 24, a graduate student and president of the Campus Area Neighborhood Association. “When you look at Biden, you say, ‘That’s my grandpa.'”

Energized for Another Biden Run

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Sitting in a booth at a Mexican tortas shop, Paola and Cristian Avila sipped aguas frescas as they waited for their friend Mike Ruelas to meet them on a recent Saturday afternoon.

After Ruelas arrived, with the sounds of drinks being made in the background, he and Cristian talked about bonding over their interest in riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles when they met about five years ago in their home county of Maricopa — which went for Trump in 2016 by under three percentage points then backed Biden in 2020 by just over two percentage points.

Paola, 32, and Ruelas, 48, voted for Biden in 2020. Cristian, 32, can’t vote because he was brought to the United States as a child from Mexico and received certain protections under an Obama-era program that does not offer a pathway to citizenship. But he feels invested in the president’s success after working in his former role as state coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a Latino voter advocacy group. Now, he’s state director for Somos Votantes, an independent Latino-led group — and he expects he’ll be on the front lines of getting Latinos out to vote for Biden one more time.

“He’s done a great job,” Cristian said. “He took on a rough economy in the middle of a pandemic. There’s still a lot of work to be done. He hasn’t done everything perfect, but I definitely think he is moving in the right direction.”

In Arizona, Latino voters played a key role in the coalition that secured Biden’s win. About 6 in 10 Latino voters (61 percent) voted for Biden in 2020 while 37 percent voted for Trump, according to exit polls.

“Biden makes me proud in the fact that he is one of the first presidents to actually say and embrace the word ‘union,'” said Ruelas, a government worker.

However, he grew emotional discussing what he felt Biden had failed to accomplish so far: an immigration overhaul. He began to tear up as he looked over to Cristian who, as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, has to navigate a byzantine bureaucracy to even visit family in the country where he was born.

“To know his status . . . it breaks my heart that he can’t go home to his country,” he said, wiping away tears. “Enough is enough. It’s been 30 years of me hearing about immigration and nothing’s been done. When … is it going to happen?”

Paola said she wants to see Biden “focus on the good that he’s done and what he can continue doing” as president. “Why not run again and try to continue working on the issues that are big for this country?” she said.

Ruelas, for his part, has gotten used to defending Biden. His brother, a Republican who supported Trump, recently visited him and started criticizing Biden and his policies. “So, I said, ‘Which policies?’ You have a problem, so give me some examples of what you’re talking about,” Ruelas said. “He had nothing. He had nothing because he’s just been radicalized by the hatred and bias the other side has put out so strongly.”

Ruelas and Paola dismissed concerns about Biden’s age.

“He is old, but look again at the other side’s hero, Trump,” Ruelas said. “Now granted, he might speak a little clearer than Biden, which could be Biden’s downfall, but they’re right there in age. So, what’s the difference? Pay attention to policies.”

Seniors Who Prefer a Biden Retirement

Grand Rapids, Mich. – The group of friends — most of them retired educators, all of them long-time Democrats — had met through a course on political literature. One evening in March, over glasses of wine and plates of discounted appetizers at a southern restaurant, they chatted about the politics of aging and what they felt was a tendency to underestimate seniors.

Biden had run one of the most successful administrations they could remember, and had shown a steady hand leading the country through the pandemic.

But that didn’t mean they thought he should spend another four years in the White House.

“He was exactly what we needed when we needed to right the ship,” 71-year-old Ann Layton said. “But I wish he wouldn’t run. I worry about the future of the Democratic Party.”

Linda Jennette, 67, had a different take. “I would just hate to see us throw away incumbency,” she said to murmurs of agreement around the table.

Democratic voters 65 and older favored Biden by a nearly 4 to 1 margin in the 2020 primaries, according to national exit polls. But a February Washington Post-ABC News poll found that while 92 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners in that age demographic approved of Biden’s job performance, 24 percent were “enthusiastic” about him being reelected as president, and 61 percent said they would be “satisfied, but not enthusiastic.”

At a nearby McDonald’s, 69-year-old Michael Bennett found agreement among his friends whom he talks with each morning. He said he believes Biden and Democrats should take a page from Trump’s playbook, forcing through policy and letting the courts decide whether the actions stand.

“You got to crush, crush, crush,” said Bennett, banging his hand against the linoleum table as his coffee sloshed in his cup.

Biden, or “Papa Joe” as Bennett refers to him, has done what he can, but it is time to step aside, he said, to “go back to Delaware and play with his grandkids.”

Still, some challenged the notion that Biden’s age could hinder his performance in office. At a meeting of seniors volunteering at a local nonpartisan voting rights group, Barbara Carter, 65, said Biden is “underestimated” because of his age.

“We are the only country that takes our senior citizens and acts like once they get to a certain age, they aren’t useful anymore,” Carter said. “And that’s where we make a mistake.”

Gussie Farris, a month away from turning 85 and a regular in canvassing efforts since Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas, likes to talk politics and still goes skiing. But as Farris thought about Biden in 2024, she wasn’t so sure he should continue.

She had tested the waters with phone calls to friends and fellow church members, seeing how they felt about someone in his 80s running the country.

Everyone gave the same response: “They want somebody younger. But more importantly than that, they want to win.”

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