Where Biden’s timing stands on announcing a reelection run
If President Biden opts to follow in the footsteps of his recent predecessors, he could wait until the spring to announce he’s running for reelection.
But Biden is under growing pressure to say officially whether he’s seeking a second term. The will-he-or-won’t-he narrative by political watchers has been swirling for months, while some Democrats spent the midterm campaign season playing coy over whether they’d support a 2024 candidate of their own party.
All indicators are pointing toward another bid by Biden, but the constant questions surrounding his announcement has proven to be an anomaly specific to the 46th president.
“You have an unprecedented factor, which is that Joe Biden is very old, and he would be, by far, the oldest president,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “It’s only fair, I think, for the president and his family to think through the enormous physical cost of going for another term.”
Former President Obama announced his plans to seek reelection on April 4, 2011, at 49 years old. Similarly, former President George W. Bush announced his candidacy for reelection on May 16, 2003, at 56 years old, and former President Clinton announced his candidacy for reelection on April 14, 1995, at 48 years old.
Biden is 80 years old this year, making him the oldest president to make a run for the White House. If he finished a second term, he would be leaving office at the age of 86.
Allan Lichtman, a distinguished professor of history at American University, called it “absurd” to think Biden is behind the curve because he hasn’t announced yet, adding that the president’s age is merely a subject that captures attention.
“Biden’s age raises for the media questions about whether or not he would follow the precedent of virtually every other modern president and run for reelection,” he said. “I would say that it’s just something for the media to talk about. Just another issue, another question that can pique people’s interest.”
Former President Trump, meanwhile, is his own outlier on the matter.
Trump announced an official run for a second term in June 2019, but was holding large rallies with staunch supporters pretty much since he took the White House in January 2017, making no secret of his intention to run again.
Trump also took the unusual move of announcing his 2024 presidential run late last year just after the midterms and before any other major candidate, including Biden, had indicated officially they want the job.
The Trump announcement sparked speculation that Biden would feel pressured to announce sooner, but many Democrats at the time disputed the notion that Biden should quickly follow.
Mary Kate Cary, a former White House speechwriter for former President George H. W. Bush, acknowledged that Biden is faced with some unusual circumstances that previous presidents did not have to consider.
“The two biggest factors are that Trump has already announced, and that’s unusual as well. The second is that, I suspect because of Biden’s age, it’s not a foregone conclusion that he was going to run for reelection,” said Cary, a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “I think that’s what’s making it different than Obama, Bush, where it was just assumed, if you were in office, you were running as the incumbent and running for reelection. And it’s not as big an assumption this time.”
Biden has said he will officially announce early this year, after taking the time to talk to his family over the holidays.
The Obama, Bush and Clinton announcements were early for their time by historical norms. Former President Reagan announced his run for reelection on Jan. 29, 1984, although the Reagan-Bush ’84 reelection campaign committee was formed in October 1983.
Naftali said that was another factor that should be considered.
“I think we, the members of the chattering classes, have created an expectation that is not historically founded. Why would it be late?” Naftali said “By the models that go back to Reagan, somebody who doesn’t announce in January after a midterm is not late.”
“If Biden wants to follow the Clinton, Bush, Obama model, well, he would announce in the spring of this year,” he added.
But the Reagan model of waiting for the election year to announce may be a thing of the past, in part because campaigns over time have also become more expensive.
“It has been normalized to get earlier and I can explain it to you in three words: money, money and money,” Lichtman said. “Campaigns are exponentially more expensive than they were during the Reagan era.”
Lichtman added that the larger media market is another differentiating factor.
“There was just so many more media outlets today that you’re trying to get their attention, and that takes time, effort and energy. Not just a few networks and major newspapers anymore,” Lichtman said.
There’s also a matter of increased campaign competition.
George H.W. Bush was the last president to lose his reelection bid before Trump. Bush announced his reelection campaign on Oct. 11, 1991, well past the usual spring timing, and the 1992 race had some of its own unprecedented factors.
Bush faced a primary contest against Republican Pat Buchanan, but won the GOP nomination. Then, third-party candidate Ross Perot entered the general election, which Clinton ultimately won.
Cary said she was surprised that a Democrat, like California Gov. Gavin Newsom, hasn’t jumped into the race to primary Biden. But she’s not ruling it out.
“I think it’s still a very fluid situation, and there’s certainly a lot of younger voters who would be very interested in someone of a younger generation running, because it is pretty amazing how old both of these candidates would be,” she said, referring to Biden and Trump.
Bush, who was 67 at the time, kicked off his third year in office with a public and embarrassing health incident. The president vomited on the Japanese prime minister while on a foreign trip on Jan. 8, 1992, and fainted while first lady Barbara Bush held his head up.
Republican critics often cite Biden’s age by way of an incident in which the president fell off his bike while riding in Delaware. Biden also once stumbled up the stairs to Air Force One.
Another factor, and one that has plagued Biden from much of the last year, is his approval rating, which has only in recent weeks ticked up but has yet to clear 45 percent.
Obama, who made his official reelection announcement through an email and video sent to supporters 20 months out from Election Day, announced while his approval rating stood at 47 percent.
A month later, by early May, it rose to 56 percent, according to Pew Research Center. In the month in between, the U.S. had killed Sept. 11 plotter Osama bin Laden, a huge legacy moment for Obama.
Biden’s approval rating hit its highest in more than a year on Thursday, coming in at 43.3 percent in new polling. He did not break 43 percent in 2022 and hit his lowest point in July around 37 percent.
But, experts say, his current approval rating shouldn’t factor into his decision to run again this far out.
“The approval rating almost two years out from an election don’t mean very much,” Lichtman said. “They might mean something, you know, if he had to worry about a serious primary challenge, but I don’t think he does.”
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