Administration

Democrats say Biden needs a strong midterm if he hopes to run for a second term

Drew Angerer / Getty
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 14: U.S. President Joe Biden removes his face mask as he arrives to speak in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden spoke about the coronavirus pandemic and encouraged states and businesses to support vaccine mandates to avoid a surge in cases of Covid-19. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Democrats say President Biden’s surprise declaration this week that it “remains to be seen” if he will launch another White House bid in 2024 is a sign that his political prospects largely hang on one thing: the midterm elections.  

If Democrats have a strong performance in the midterms, Biden will have more leverage to mount a run for another four years in the White House.  

But if the party loses the House and Senate majorities, Biden could feel obliged to step aside, they say.  

“If we don’t do well, I think the pressure will be on to turn the page,” one Democratic strategist said. “I think he’s aware of this … it’s a big test for him.”  

“He needs the midterms to go moderately well,” one former Obama administration official said. 

In an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday night, Biden gave a murkier reply than usual when asked about his plans to run again.

“Look, my intention, as I said to begin with, is that I would run again,” Biden said in the interview. “But it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”  

The president went on to say that he is “a great respecter of fate.”  

“… What I’m doing is, I’m doing my job. I’m gonna do that job,” he continued. “And within the time frame that makes sense after this next election cycle here, going into next year make a judgment on what to do.”  

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said the assumption should be that Biden is in fact running for reelection.  

Still, he said, “I do think the midterms will play a big role in shaping the Democratic discussion about 2024.“  

“An unexpectedly strong showing will bolster support for staying the course. A terrible outcome will generate more pressure to at least consider the possibility of a primary challenge and, within the White House, of not running,” Zelizer added.  

Some Democrats believe that if Republicans were to win one or both chambers of Congress, it would actually serve Biden’s interests.  

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale described it as “bad for passing bills and a normal functioning democracy,” before adding: “It’s an incredible foil for Biden 2024.” 

“He gets to start wielding his Dark Brandon executive order pen to keep getting shit done to actually help people while Republicans will be shutting down the government, banning abortion and launching insane tinfoil hat conspiracy investigations,” Vale added, referencing a variation of the phrase “Let’s go Brandon,” which conservatives have used to criticize Biden.

Biden has been boosted in the polls in recent weeks by a string of developments.  

Gas prices that surged upwards for much of the year have fallen, and while inflation remains a problem, the president is pointing to strong jobs figures as a sign of the economy’s strength.  

He scored several summer legislative victories, most notably the Inflation Reduction Act, which was seen as a big win by many Democrats, boosting Biden within his party.  

Former President Trump’s dominance of headlines after the FBI’s search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago also helped Biden. And Democratic prospects are seen as rising because of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling. 

An NBC News poll released this week showed that 45 percent of those surveyed had a positive opinion of Biden’s job performance, up 3 points since last month and his highest number in almost a year.  

Some Democrats say the president’s record should be enough reason to mount a reelection campaign.  

“He can run again because he chooses to do so,” said Nayerra Haq, a former Obama administration official. “He’s the incumbent president.”  

Another Democratic strategist said it would be foolish for Biden to make any plans official before the midterms.  

If Biden announced he wasn’t running, he would immediately be labeled a so-called “lame-duck” president. Such an announcement, the second Democratic strategist said, would be an “unnecessary distraction” ahead of the midterm elections.  

“Instead of the focus being on all the great Democrats running for office all over the country, the headlines would be who should run and who shouldn’t. Who’s up and who’s down. The rat race.”  

“The president is making a thoughtful and smart decision to hold off on announcing until after the midterm elections,” the strategist added. “How those races play out will define the second half of his presidency.” 

On Tuesday, Sen. Chris Coons, (D-Del.) one of Biden’s closest allies in the Senate, told reporters that the president may wait until the middle of 2023 before deciding whether or not to launch another bid. 

“We haven’t had the midterm elections yet,” Coons told Axios and other outlets. “The outcome of the midterm elections will be a fairly strong indication of what the issues are that will shape the ground for the 2024 presidential.” 

In the meantime, sources say advisers around Biden have begun discussing what a run might look like while trying out potential narratives in the coming months.  

For months, Biden, who is 79, and his advisers have pushed back on the notion that he is too old to run for president again, a sentiment that has dominated much of his first term. Republicans — including Trump — have frequently made mental acuity an issue.  

When he was asked about his age in the “60 Minutes” interview and whether he is fit for the job, Biden replied, “Watch me.”  

“I mean honest to God, that’s what I think. Watch me.” 

Alex Gangitano contributed.  

Tags 2024 presidential race Donald Trump Inflation Inflation Reduction Act Joe Biden Ron DeSantis
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