- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2022

The White House insists President Biden will run in 2024, but speculation is rampant that he will pass the baton to someone on the Democratic bench.

Top prospects include Vice President Kamala Harris, members of the Cabinet and governors such as Phil Murphy of New Jersey, who sees his state as a road map for a national Democratic agenda.

Mr. Biden would be 82 years old at the start of a second term, and his approval numbers are stuck underwater amid high inflation, the unrelenting coronavirus and crises such as an infant formula shortage.

“I expect Biden to run for reelection. Any hint that he won’t would be counterproductive. Why would he make himself a lame duck any sooner than he absolutely has to?” said David Yepsen, a retired Iowa political reporter for the Des Moines Register and Iowa PBS.

“But it’s not crazy talk given his age, his halting performances on television and his poor job approval ratings,” he said. “Depending on how bad the Democratic losses are in the midterms — and they could be substantial — he may well opt not to run again. Or he may be so weak that some progressive may decide to take him on.”

There is a roster of Democrats who could emerge as heirs to the party throne because of name recognition or a track record of winning smaller contests. Each of them might inherit the headwinds that Mr. Biden is facing or struggle to cobble support from a party that is sharply divided between liberals and moderates.

SEE ALSO: Biden visits Uvalde to grieve, pledge action

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernard Sanders of Vermont have proven track records of rallying the liberal base. Prognosticators say they would be in the mix again if Mr. Biden gives way or the left flank of his party demands a challenger. 

Mr. Sanders is even older than Mr. Biden, raising doubts about a third run. Still, a Sanders adviser reportedly wrote an April memo saying the liberal icon “has not ruled out another run for president.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, came up short in the 2020 presidential primary but could reengage, especially with voters in the Upper Midwest, who have an outsized influence on the Electoral College map.

Naturally, any talk of a Biden heir begins with Ms. Harris. She has made history as the first woman to become vice president and is the first in the line of succession.

The problems are that her approval numbers are lagging, her office is in constant turmoil and she has struggled with an ambitious portfolio of thorny issues such as immigration and voting rights.

Political analysts said Democrats’ tendency to focus on identity would make it difficult for a rival to nudge aside a woman of color like Ms. Harris, leaving everyone in a period of stasis.

SEE ALSO: Justice Department announces review of police response to Texas school shooting

“No White guy or gal wants to big-foot her, but there is a lot of eager talent out there,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University. “But they all have to wait until the old guy makes his move.”

The Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll last month found that Ms. Harris tops the list of preferred candidates if Mr. Biden decides not to run. She attracts 19% from Democratic and independent voters, compared with 10% apiece for Mr. Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was third at 7%. The Cabinet member is a young star in the party who showed prowess in 2020 by winning the Iowa caucuses. 

Democrats often grumble that Iowa isn’t representative of the party and the 2020 count was a mess. The party might pivot to New Hampshire or another state to kick off the 2024 primary voting.

Mr. Buttigieg also would face questions about his performance at the Transportation Department.

“If he decides to run, he’s going to have to explain why the supply chain challenges that occurred on his watch were not his fault and not that bad,” said Colin Reed, a Republican Party strategist who served as a spokesman for Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and 2016 presidential candidate. “I would just put one strike against anyone who is in or can be associated with the Biden administration.”

Trickle-down problems for Cabinet members would also impact Gina Raimondo, the former Rhode Island governor and current Commerce Department secretary who is gaining buzz in the news media as a business-savvy centrist who could make waves in a presidential contest but would struggle to win over liberals.

Outside of Washington, Stacey Abrams is the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor and an advocate for voting rights. She is locked in a tough race this year against Gov. Brian Kemp, who defeated her in 2018 and will attack her for recently saying Georgia is “the worst state in the country to live.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer offered the Democratic response to President Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address, but she must fight for reelection this year and has faced vocal backlash over her COVID-19 restrictions.

Whether any of these Democrats will get a shot at the presidency in 2024 is a Washington parlor game at this point.

Mr. Biden last year said he will run again as long as he is healthy and that he would relish a rematch with Mr. Trump.

“The president has every intention of running for reelection,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in December.

In April, Mr. Biden told former President Barack Obama, whom he served as vice president, that he planned to seek reelection, according to The Hill.

Mr. Biden would likely face a more traditional campaign in 2024 than in 2020, when he stayed out of the spotlight because of the pandemic. He also would have to run on his record instead of making it a complete referendum on Mr. Trump.

Although Mr. Biden got a long-sought infrastructure plan into law, his exit from Afghanistan was chaotic, his broader agenda is bogged down in Congress and variants of the coronavirus continue to trip up the path to normalcy.

The mounting crises have prompted whispers that someone else, perhaps a celebrity, could take the reins. Michelle Obama remains popular among Democrats, though the former first lady says she has no interest in running for office.

In New Jersey, Mr. Murphy is quick to paint his statewide agenda as a road map for the nation. In last year’s reelection campaign, he touted efforts to lift the minimum wage in the state to $15 per hour by 2024, boost a well-funded public school system and impose a “millionaire’s tax” to fund health care, education and infrastructure initiatives.

“If you want to know what the future looks like, folks, come to New Jersey. If you want to understand where America is heading, look to New Jersey,” Mr. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ambassador to Germany, said in November after defeating a tough Republican opponent.

The rhetoric, plus a victory that made Mr. Murphy the first Democratic governor to win reelection in New Jersey in over four decades, sparked murmurs about a run despite the governor’s denials.

“I’m not running. I’m not running. Jesus, Lord, help me,” Mr. Murphy told NJ Advance Media in January. Asked whether he would consider jumping into a primary if Mr. Biden decides not to run, the governor said, “I don’t see it.

“Listen, based on everything I’m hearing, he’s running again,” he told the newspaper.

Mr. Reed, the former Christie spokesman, said Mr. Murphy “probably looks in the mirror and sees a potential president.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide