No serious Democratic rivals, as U.S. President seeks to ‘finish the job’
U.S. President Joe Biden has confirmed his bid for reelection in 2024, saying now was not the time for complacency, as “Make America Great Again” “extremists” line up to take bedrock freedoms away. © AP
April 25, 2023 19:43 JST
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday formally announced that he is running for reelection in 2024, asking voters to give him more time to “finish the job” he began when he was sworn into office and to set aside their concerns about extending his run as America’s oldest president for another four years.
Biden, who will be 86 by the end of a second term, is betting that his first-term legislative achievements and more than 50 years of experience in Washington will count for more than concerns over his age. He faces a smooth path to winning his party’s nomination, with no serious Democratic rivals. But he’s still set for a hard-fought struggle to retain the presidency in a bitterly divided nation.
The announcement, in a three-minute video, comes on the four-year anniversary of when Biden declared for the White House in 2019, promising to heal the “soul of the nation” amid the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump — a goal that has remained elusive.
“I said we are in a battle for the soul of America, and we still are,” Biden said. “The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer.”
While the question of seeking reelection has been a given for most modern presidents, that has not always been the case for Biden, as a notable swath of Democratic voters have indicated they would prefer he did not run, in part because of his age — concerns Biden has called “totally legitimate” but ones he did not address head-on in the launch video.
Yet few things have unified Democratic voters as much as the prospect of Trump returning to power. And Biden’s political standing within his party stabilized after Democrats notched a stronger-than-expected performance in last year’s midterm elections, as the president set out to run again on the same themes that buoyed his party last fall, particularly on preserving access to abortion.
“Freedom. Personal freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans. There’s nothing more important. Nothing more sacred,” Biden said in the launch video, which painted the Republican Party as extremists trying to roll back access to abortion, cut social security, limit voting rights and ban books they disagree with. “Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take those bedrock freedoms away,” he said, referring to the “Make America Great Again” slogan popularized by Trump.
“This is not a time to be complacent,” Biden added. “That’s why I’m running for reelection.”
As the contours of the campaign begin to take shape, Biden plans to campaign on his record. He spent his first two years as president combating the coronavirus pandemic and pushing through major bills such as the bipartisan infrastructure package and legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and measures to limit climate change. With Republicans now in control of the House, Biden has shifted his focus to implementing those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements, while sharpening the contrast with the GOP, as the Republican party is also known, ahead of an expected showdown over raising the nation’s borrowing limit that could have debilitating consequences for the country’s economy.
But the president also has multiple policy goals and unmet promises from his first campaign that he’s pitching voters on giving him another chance to fulfill.
“Let’s finish this job. I know we can,” Biden said in the video, repeating a mantra he said a dozen times during his State of the Union address in February, listing everything from passing a ban on assault-style weapons and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, to codifying a national right to abortion after the Supreme Court’s ruling last year overturning Roe v. Wade.
Buoyed by the midterm results, Biden plans to continue to cast all Republicans as embracing what he calls “ultra-MAGA” politics regardless of whether his predecessor Trump ends up on the 2024 ballot. He’s spent the last several months road-testing campaign themes, including painting Republicans as fighting for tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy while trying to cut social safety net benefits relied on by everyday Americans and roll back access to abortion services.
Biden, speaking over brief video clips and photographs of key moments in his presidency, snapshots of diverse Americans and flashes of his outspoken Republican foes, including Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, exhorted supporters that “this is our moment” to “defend democracy. Stand up for our personal freedoms. Stand up for the right to vote and our civil rights.”
Biden also plans to point to his work over the past two years shoring up American alliances, leading a global coalition to support Ukraine’s defenses against Russia’s invasion and returning the U.S. to the Paris climate accord. But public support in the U.S. for Ukraine has softened in recent months, and some voters question the tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance flowing to Kyiv.
The president faces lingering criticism over his administration’s chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war, which undercut the image of competence he aimed to portray to the world, and he finds himself the target of GOP attacks over his immigration and economic policies.
As a candidate in 2020, Biden pitched voters on his familiarity with the halls of power in Washington and his relationships around the world as he promised to return a sense of normalcy to the country after Trump’s tumultuous presidency and amid the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
But even back then, Biden was acutely aware of voters’ concerns about his age.
“Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” Biden said in March 2020, as he campaigned in Michigan with younger Democrats, including now-Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.”
Three years later, and now 80, Biden allies say his time in office has demonstrated that he saw himself as more of a transformational than a transitional leader.
Still, many Democrats would prefer that Biden didn’t run again. A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows just 47% of Democrats say they want him to seek a second term, up from 37% in February. And Biden’s verbal — and occasional physical — stumbles have become fodder among the GOP, which has sought to cast him as unfit for office.
Biden, on multiple occasions, has brushed back concerns about his age, saying simply, “Watch me.”
During a routine physical in February, his physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, declared him “healthy, vigorous” and “fit” to handle his White House responsibilities.
Aides acknowledge that while some in his party might prefer an alternative to Biden, there is anything but consensus within their diverse coalition on who that might be. And they insist that when Biden is compared with whomever the GOP nominates, Democrats and independents will rally around Biden.
For now, the 76-year-old Trump is the favorite to emerge as the Republican nominee, creating the potential of a historic sequel to the bitterly fought 2020 campaign. But Trump faces significant hurdles of his own, including the designation of being the first former president to face criminal charges. The remaining GOP field is volatile, with DeSantis emerging as an early alternative to Trump. DeSantis’ stature is also in question, however, amid questions about his readiness to campaign outside of his increasingly Republican-leaning state.
To prevail again, Biden will need to revive the alliance of young voters and Black voters — particularly women — along with blue-collar Midwesterners, moderates and disaffected Republicans who helped him win in 2020. He’ll have to again carry the so-called “blue wall” in the Upper Midwest, while protecting his position in Georgia and Arizona, longtime GOP strongholds that he narrowly won in his last campaign.
Biden’s reelection bid comes as the nation weathers uncertain economic crosscurrents. Inflation is ticking down after hitting the highest rate in a generation, driving up the price of goods and services, but unemployment is at a 50-year low, and the economy is showing signs of resilience despite Federal Reserve interest rate rises.
Presidents typically try to delay their reelection announcements to maintain the advantages of incumbency and skate above the political fray for as long as possible while their rivals trade jabs. But the leg-up offered by being in the White House can be rickety — three of the last seven presidents have lost reelection, most recently Trump in 2020.
Biden’s announcement is roughly consistent with the timeline followed by then-President Barack Obama, who waited until April 2011 to declare for a second term. Trump launched his reelection bid on the day he was sworn in in 2017.
Biden is not expected to dramatically alter his day-to-day schedule as a candidate — at least not immediately — with aides believing his strongest political asset is showing the American people that he is governing. And if he follows the Obama playbook, he may not hold any formal campaign rallies until well into 2024. Obama didn’t hold a reelection rally until May 2012.
On Tuesday, Biden named White House adviser Julie Chavez Rodriguez to serve as campaign manager and Quentin Fulks, who ran Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection campaign in Georgia last year, to serve as principal deputy campaign manager. Reps. Lisa Blunt-Rochester, Jim Clyburn and Veronica Escobar; Sens. Chris Coons and Tammy Duckworth; entertainment mogul and Democratic mega-donor Jeffrey Katzenberg; and Whitmer will serve as campaign co-chairs.
On the heels of the announcement Tuesday, Biden was set to deliver remarks to union members before hosting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for a state visit at the White House. He plans to meet with party donors in Washington later this week.
Biden’s formal go-ahead comes after months of public incredulity that the president would seek another term despite plentiful signs that he was intent on doing so.
Ahead of the president’s announcement, first lady Jill Biden expressed disbelief at the persistent questions about her husband’s intent to run.
“How many times does he have to say it for you to believe it?” she told The Associated Press in late February. “He says he’s not done.”