Democrats back Biden, but no consensus on Plan B for 2024

NEW ORLEANS – Speaking to reporters at a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association, Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina gave an emphatic response when asked if he expected the president Biden is running for a second term – and if he thought it was in the best interest of his party.

“I do and I do,” Mr. Cooper said Friday, adding: “I fully expect him to seek re-election and I will support him, and in fact, we’re going to win North Carolina for him.”

But just three minutes later, Mr. Cooper – the only Democratic governor to have twice won a state that former President Donald J. Trump won on the same ballot – sketched out what could be the makeup of a Cooper for President message to primary voters.

He trumpeted his repeal of his state’s so-called toilet law targeting transgender people, an executive order granting paid parental leave to state employees, and another executive order putting North Carolina on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050. “That’s why Democratic governors are so important,” he said, referring to next year’s midterm elections.

Publicly, Mr. Cooper and other Democratic leaders are focused on what will be a difficult year 2022 if Mr. Biden’s popularity does not improve. However, it is 2024 that increasingly concerns a long list of ambitious Democrats and their advisers.

With Mr Biden facing plunging poll numbers and turning 82 as of the month he would be on the ballot, and Vice President Kamala Harris plagued by her own poll numbers, conversations about possible alternatives are off to a good start. earlier than usual for a president. in the first year of his first term.

Neither prospect would dare to openly show interest, for fear of offending both a president who White House officials say made it clear to them that he plans to run for re-election and a vice-president. historic president who could be his heir apparent. No president since Lyndon Johnson in 1968 has chosen not to stand for re-election.

Still, a set of anxious currents within the Democratic Party has fueled speculation about a possible contested primary two years from now. In addition to concerns about Mr. Biden’s age and current unpopularity, Democrats largely fear the possibility of a Trump return – and the determination that the party must present a strong candidate to avoid it.

If Mr. Biden changes his mind and withdraws from 2024, there is no consensus among Democrats on the best alternative.

The list of potential candidates begins with Ms Harris and includes senior transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg – the two most discussed candidates in Washington – as well as a set of former presidential candidates like Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota. .

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said if such a race went ahead it would be “a real mud fight in the old-fashioned good sense of Democratic fights.” If there “never been any rules” in the presidential nomination contests, he added, “they no longer hold”.

Two Democrats who ran for president in the last election have said they fully expect Mr Biden to run again, but notably haven’t ruled out running if he refuses to do so. To do.

“He is running, I plan to support him and help him get re-elected,” Ms. Warren said. “I’m sticking to this story.”

Ms Klobuchar, who told influential Democrats last year that she would be interested in running again, said of Mr Biden: “He said he was going to run again, and I’m taking him to the word, and that’s all I wanna say … gonna say.

A number of well-known party officials, Mr. Biden most notable of them, deferred to Hillary Clinton in 2016, leaving a significant opening on the pitch that was filled by Senator Bernie Sanders. The surprising strength of Mr Sanders’ candidacy and Ms Clinton’s subsequent defeat to Mr Trump shattered assumptions about what was possible in politics today and embittered many party members over the coronations. .

Likewise, Mr Buttigieg’s meteoric rise to the 2020 primary has emboldened aspiring Democrats, who took the importance of an under-40 mayor of a small town as further proof that voters have a broad imagination as to who can serve as commander-in-chief. .

The trickiest thing for Democrats are Ms Harris’ struggles and whether she would be the most formidable candidate after Biden. In a party that celebrates its diversity and relies on black and female voters to win at all levels of government, it would be difficult to challenge the black first vice president and first woman.

Yet recent history provides few examples of vice presidents who have claimed the White House without a fierce nomination fight. The last two Vice Presidents to win the Presidency, George HW Bush and Mr. Biden, faced tumultuous primary contests on their way to the White House.

There is little reason to expect an easier path for Ms. Harris.

Even Ms. Harris’ allies are alarmed by the constant stream of stories about her struggles and a recent exodus of staff.

“Everything has to change, from optics to politics to personnel,” said Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and close to Ms. Harris’ advisers. “She did a lot of good things, but no one talks about the accomplishments.”

“If Biden announces that he won’t show up in 2024,” she added, “that’s the open sesame.”

Potential wannabes could include other figures in the Biden administration.

Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor who now leads the implementation of Mr. Biden’s $ 1 billion infrastructure law, was planning to run for president in 2020, and some of his allies quietly promoted him as a potentially formidable candidate going forward.

Mr Landrieu rebuilt his city after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and received nationwide acclaim for a speech he gave in 2017 announcing the removal of Confederate statues from New Orleans.

Reverend Al Sharpton said Mr. Landrieu would be “a very interesting candidate” if Mr. Biden did not run again.

“He knows how to work in the South; he knows how to work with black and brown communities, ”said Mr. Sharpton. “And having a leading position in infrastructure doesn’t hurt. “

Mr Sharpton said he regularly hears from Ms Harris and Mr Buttigieg, who has struggled to gain even minimal support from voters of color in 2020, “has kept in touch every month.”

Mr. Biden’s Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has also expressed interest in the White House in the past.

As the 2020 election neared, Ms Raimondo, then governor of Rhode Island, told an informal adviser she believed there was a path to the presidency for someone with her experience and background. But Ms Raimondo, a leader of her party’s moderate wing, recently told an associate that she was “out of political affairs.”

Yet if Mr Biden ruled out a second campaign, there are also Democrats who believe the party would be better off looking to a leader outside Washington rather than recruiting from a tired administration.

At the governor’s conference in New Orleans this weekend, cautious questions about Mr. Biden’s age and Ms. Harris’ vulnerabilities have peppered the hallway and cocktail party conversations.

Mr. Cooper already has donors encouraging him to consider an offer, according to Democrats familiar with the conversations.

If Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer survives a tough re-election next year in one of the most critical presidential battles, she too will be immediately pressured to consider a candidacy.

“She was a great governor at a very difficult time,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, suggesting Ms. Whitmer could be a strong candidate while taking care to note that “our vice president is extremely talented.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who survived a tougher-than-expected re-election last month amid a dismal political environment, could also run. A former Goldman Sachs executive and Democratic donor, he was appointed ambassador to Germany by former President Barack Obama.

Since his victory, Mr. Murphy has had a series of conversations with prominent Democrats, including a dinner at a well-known New Orleans restaurant with strategist James Carville that caught the attention of a number of other governors and conference participants.

There’s also Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a billionaire who has worked to stabilize his state’s finances and embrace progressive policies, like a $ 15 minimum wage, since being elected in 2018. Longtime financial recipient National Democrats, Mr Pritzker could face a competitive race for re-election in 2022.

While the Allies say Mr Pritzker has expressed no specific intention to run for president in 2024 if Mr Biden steps down, he has spoken privately about his interest in running for the White House at some point if l opportunity presented itself.

His advisers have tried to stifle the prospect, at least for now. “Governor Pritzker is focused on the challenges facing the people of Illinois and is not spending time on DC’s favorite board game: who will be the next president,” said Emily Bittner, his spokesperson. She said the governor “wholeheartedly supports” Mr Biden and Ms Harris and expected them to be re-elected.

Still, conversation is abundant – at least in private.

Mr. Trump’s campaign for revenge against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, for example, has Democrats questioning whether Stacey Abrams could take advantage of Republican disarray to win the post of state governor and then mount a presidential candidacy.

Acknowledging that such speculation could be used against Ms Abrams in the race for governor, her campaign manager insisted last week that if she was elected next year, Ms Abrams would serve a full term.

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