Senate Democrats are pushing back hard on criticism from within their own party that President Biden’s poll numbers are so weak that the party should replace him atop the ticket, dismissing concerns about Biden’s electability as totally counterproductive.
Some of the sharpest criticism of Biden’s electability has come from former President Obama’s senior political adviser David Axelrod, who is warning that Biden has no better than a 50-50 chance of winning reelection.
Senate Democrats, whose majority is entwined with Biden’s fate in the next election, are making it clear they don’t appreciate Axelrod and other Democrats badmouthing the president’s chances in 2024.
“I see no prospect of an alternative right now. I think Joe Biden is in really good shape, mentally. I was with him two hours on Wednesday night. He is sharp, informed and extraordinarily discreet and insightful in comments on very sensitive policy areas like Israel and domestic challenges,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.
“He will beat Donald Trump if Democrats rally behind him and discard the handwringing and the eyeball rolling,” he said.
Democratic senators say talk about replacing him as their nominee for president fails to account for his legislative accomplishments and the fact that the first primary contests of 2024 are only a few weeks away.
While polls show a majority of Democratic voters would prefer to have someone else as their party’s nominee, Senate Democrats decided early on to coalesce behind the president and refuse to entertain any discussions about flipping him off the ticket.
“To all my fellow Democrats — STOP!! We need to stop wringing our hands over the pundits and the polls!” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) recently posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. She pointed to Democratic victories this month in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania as reason for optimism heading into next year’s presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also slapped down talk of replacing Biden as the party’s nominee after a New York Times/Siena College poll showed him trailing former President Trump in five battleground states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania.
“I believe President Biden will win the election, he will beat President Trump and I believe that all of the good things that President Biden has done, the people are learning about it, week by week and state by state,” Schumer said when asked about the poll that has set off alarm bells among other Democrats.
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While the New York Times/Siena poll received a lot of media coverage, Democratic lawmakers are dismissing it as an early snapshot of a political environment that will change significantly over the 11 months before Election Day 2024.
“I think we’re a year out. I think poll numbers — you can’t believe poll numbers anyway,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who faces a competitive reelection race in a state where Trump beat Biden by 17 percentage points in 2020.
But the poll has given an opening for Biden’s critics within the party to push for a change at the top of the ticket.
“I think he has a 50-50 shot here, but no better than that, maybe a little worse,” Axelrod told The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, citing the president’s age as a major factor.
“He thinks he can cheat nature here, and it’s really risky. They’ve got real problems if they’re counting on Trump to win it for them. I remember [Hillary Clinton] doing that, too,” Axelrod warned, alluding to Biden’s age. The president turned 81 Monday.
Axelrod suggested that Biden consider dropping his bid for a second term when the Times/Siena poll came out earlier this month, posting on X: “If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s?”
This kind of talk is rankling Democratic senators who have to protect vulnerable incumbents in Arizona, Montana, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
They worry that talk among prominent Democrats such as Axelrod about what those critics perceive as Biden’s weakness could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Our biggest problem is we get into our own heads on this stuff and then it becomes a thing,” said one Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to discuss the second thoughts some fellow Democrats are having about Biden as the nominee.
Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, noted that Biden doesn’t face a serious primary challenger and that any attempt at this point to reorganize the Democratic presidential ticket would throw the party into disarray.
He said Axelrod’s comments about Biden are “unhelpful” to Democrats politically.
“Understandably there’s always been some tension between the Obama people and the Biden people but to give voice to it so openly seems to me politically foolish,” he said.
He warned “if enough people” in the party question Biden’s competence as a candidate “it’s going to develop a life of its own.”
“There really isn’t anyone there” to take Biden’s place, he said. “It would have to be a major restructuring of the Democratic ticket at this point, and no one wants to do it.”
Democratic senators, by and large, agree.
“There are polls out with Biden up outside the margin of error. There are polls showing him behind. The campaign hasn’t started. I do not let myself get worried about polls this far out,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said.
So far, Rep. Dean Phillips (D), a little-known congressman from Minnesota, and self-help author Marianne Williamson, whose campaign for president in 2020 gained little traction, are Biden’s only competition in the Democratic primary.
The one glaring exception to the unity within the Senate Democratic caucus in support of Biden is West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who said he would “absolutely” consider a third-party bid for president.
Manchin is planning to go on a national listening tour to see if there is enough appetite among voters in the “middle” to support him running for president as a pragmatic centrist.
He warned in an NBC interview last week that Biden and Vice President Harris do not make for the strongest 2024 ticket.
“I really believe the parties are in peril right now, they’re basically attracting the extremes,” he told NBC’s Kristen Welker. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure and mobilize the moderate, sensible, commonsense middle.”
“I’m afraid Joe Biden’s been pushed too far to the left. Can he come back? We’ll see,” he added.