As President Biden accelerates his re-election campaign, the strength of his candidacy is being tested by a striking divide between Democratic leaders, who are overwhelmingly unified behind his candidacy, and the party’s rank-and-file voters who harbor lingering doubts about whether it is your best option.
From the highest levels of the party on down, Democratic politicians and party officials have long dismissed the idea that Biden should have a credible primary challenger. However, despite his efforts – and the lack of a serious opponent within his party – they have not been able to allay Democratic concerns about him, which largely center on his age and vitality.
Discord between the party’s elite and its voters leaves Democrats facing a level of disunity not seen in decades for a president running for re-election.
Interviews with more than a dozen strategists, elected officials and voters last week, conversations with Democrats since Biden’s campaign began in April and months of public polling data show that this disconnect has become a decisive obstacle to his candidacy, which worries Democrats. from liberal enclaves to swing states to the halls of power in Washington.
Biden’s campaign and its allies argue that much of the dissent within the party will fade next year, once the election becomes a clear choice between the president and former President Donald J. Trump, the dominant leader in the elections. Republican primaries.
But his assurances have not allayed concerns about Biden among some top Democratic strategists and many of the party’s voters, who approve of his performance but fear that Biden, who will turn 82 on Inauguration Day, is simply not there. ready to be chosen. another four years, or even the grueling work of another election.
“Voters don’t want this, and you see that in poll after poll,” said James Carville, a veteran party strategist, who worries that a lack of enthusiasm for Biden could lead to lower Democratic turnout in 2024. You can’t look at what you look at and not feel some apprehension here.”
TO CNN poll published this month found that 67 percent of Democrats would prefer that Biden not be nominated again, a higher percentage than in polls conducted by The New York Times and Siena College Over the summer he discovered that half would prefer someone else.
In quiet conversations and off-the-record meetings, Democratic officials frequently acknowledge their concerns about Biden’s age and low approval ratings. But publicly they project complete confidence in her ability to lead and win.
“It definitely has a paradoxical element to it,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. of New Jersey, a Democrat who is part of a group of governors who put aside their national ambitions to support Biden’s re-election bid. “This is just a matter of time until the party as a whole, and Americans more broadly, converge with the views of people like me.”
Many party officials say Biden is making a high-stakes bet that government power, a good political environment for his party and the fact that Democrats generally like the president will eventually offset strident signs of concern from his loyal followers. Any discussion of an alternative is little more than fantasy, they say, since challenging Biden would not only appear disloyal but would likely backfire and potentially weaken the president’s standing in the general election.
A Democratic voter who backed Biden in 2020, James Collier, a Houston accountant, sees the situation slightly differently. He said he would like to see Biden clear the way for a new generation who could energize the party’s base.
“I think he’s a little bit, no a little bit, very old,” Collier, 57, said. “I hope in your own mind you think, ‘I need to sit back and let someone else do this.’”
There is no indication that anyone prominent will mount a late challenge to Biden, although strategists working for other elected officials say several well-known politicians would likely jump into the race if, at any time before the end of the year, the president indicated that would not apply.
The situation is almost the opposite of that of the Republican field, where Trump has a commanding lead among the party’s base, but remains much less liked by a political class that fears that his unpopularity among moderate and undecided voters will lead to his defeat in 2024.
William Owen, a Democratic National Committee member from Tennessee, praised Biden and said he was baffled by polls that consistently showed the president struggling to win over Democratic voters.
“I’m looking at all the polls and I’m surprised that they have so little to do with reality,” he said in an interview last week. “A big part of this is pure age discrimination. “The American people are prejudiced against older people.”
But in describing his interactions with Democrats in Knoxville, which he represented for years in the Tennessee legislature, Owen said he couldn’t escape questions about Biden’s health.
“People ask me, ‘How’s Joe? Will he last another four years?’” Owen said. “That’s the real question. Will Joe Biden last another four years? He I’m glad to say that he yes, he will. He will live to be 103 years old.”
Biden campaign officials insist that bemoaning his age is due to press coverage, not voter concerns. They dismiss his low approval ratings and lackluster poll numbers as typical of a sitting president more than a year before Election Day.
A campaign spokesperson cited articles about Democrats’ concern about President Barack Obama ahead of his second term and pointed to the limitations of polling leading up to an election, suggesting Biden had enough time to make his case.
“President Biden is getting results, his agenda is popular with the American people, and we are mobilizing our winning coalition of voters well ahead of next year’s general election,” said spokesman Kevin Muñoz. “Next year’s election will be a tough choice between President Biden and the extreme and unpopular MAGA agenda.”
Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis of Pennsylvania, who is black and has issued public warnings On Biden’s standing among Black voters, he said that simply presenting the election as a referendum on Trump and his right-wing movement, as Biden’s campaign did in 2020, would not be enough to energize the Democratic base. Davis has urged the White House to be more aggressive in highlighting the impact of Biden’s achievements, particularly among Black voters.
“Everyone is a little worn out by the fight between Biden and Trump,” he said. “People really want to hear leaders talk about how they are going to improve the lives of their families.”
Other Democrats argue that Biden’s campaign needs to make it clearer that more than just the president is at stake.
“Is about show people that the future of American democracy is at stake,” said Rep. Jennifer McClellan of Virginia, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. “It’s not just about which president can get through the day without stumbling or stumbling over his words, which everyone is going to do, but which president is going to lead this country forward in a way that helps people solve problems and keep American democracy intact. .”
Faiz Shakir, campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential bid, said Biden needed to show voters he was fighting for the American public, pointing to battles such as his administration’s legal fight with pharmaceutical companies over his new plan. Medicare pricing.
“The question I would like to answer is: is he a strong leader?” Mr. Shakir said. “When people see that he is a strong leader, they will feel differently about his age. They will feel differently about the economy. They will feel different about many things.”
Malcolm Peterson, a bartender from St. Paul, Minnesota, whose main political concern is climate change, said he generally approved of Biden’s job as president and thought he had done a good job addressing environmental issues. But he said he was concerned about whether the president could continue that work in a second term.
“I wonder, since he is quite old, what he will look like in four years?” Peterson, 34, said. “I’m not a doctor. I only know what I’ve seen.”