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Do Democrats need a past ‘superstar’ to hold the White House in 2024?

At least for some, the famous line, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt” (often attributed to Mark Twain), perfectly underscores the dilemma of the Democratic Party’s leaders approaching the 2024 presidential election. Many of them seem to be in flat-out denial of the widespread fear — or reality — that they don’t have a viable ticket.

A recent article in Politico gave a deliberate test drive to some of the concerns regarding the highly flawed incumbent ticket of President Biden and Vice President Harris. It read, in part: “High-level Democrats are rallying to President Biden’s reelection, not because they think it’s in the best interest of the country to have an 82-year-old start a second term but because they fear the potential alternative: the nomination of Kamala Harris and election of Donald Trump.”

The article, based in part on interviews conducted during the National Governor’s Association winter meeting in February, continued: “There was the senator who said few Democrats in the chamber want Biden to run again but that the party had to devise ‘an alignment of interest’ with the president to get him off the ‘narcotic’ of the office; there was the governor who mused about just how little campaigning Biden would be able to do,” along with a congressman who “said Harris wasn’t an option.”

All of this woe-is-us angst is reflected in what I hear from every campaign-experienced Democrat I have spoken with. None want the president or vice president to represent the party in 2024, but all feel painted into a corner because Biden and Harris refuse to admit, even privately, the obvious.

What’s a party desperate to hold on to the White House to do?

At some point, all of the Democrats I have spoken with drift into a version of the same thought: They need a superstar to emerge as the “adult in the room” to save the party. That said, none of these Democrats seems remotely enamored with 2020 retreads such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg or others.

Instead, each spoke of a “Hail Mary” pass to the electoral-vote end zone, where a superstar candidate’s only job would be somehow to salvage an election which seems to be slipping away with each passing day.

Just what would constitute such a superstar?

The Democrats I spoke with — all admittedly with a sense of desperation, realizing such a scenario is, in all likelihood, a fantasy — offered up four names as possible savior/superstar candidates: former first lady Michelle Obama, former secretary of State and two-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former presidential candidate and now White House climate envoy John Kerry, and former vice president and presidential candidate Al Gore.

It is a list that may say more about Democrats lacking a deep bench of proven talent when it comes to the recent past. And it is a list that poses many other obvious problems, too.

For starters, with the exception of Michelle Obama, none of these would come close to offering the new generation of leadership that has become a mantra with many in both parties. Hillary Clinton is 75; Kerry is 79 and Gore, 74.

Mrs. Obama is the youngest, at 59. Many Democrats (and more than a few Republicans) say she has that all-elusive “it” factor which would place her head-and-shoulders above Biden, Harris, and any potential Democratic challenger to Biden.

But she has said consistently and repeatedly — and as recently as a Nov. 18 interview with the BBC— that she has no interest in running for the presidency. None. Ever.

In contrast, Clinton, Kerry and Gore are widely seen as alienating political figures; while Clinton may still have a loyal core of supporters, neither Kerry or Gore have a serious substantial base in the party today. And yet, all three came heartbreakingly close to winning the White House. In 2000, Gore lost Florida — and the presidency — to then Republican George W. Bush by only 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast. Kerry would have been elected president over Bush in 2004 if he had been able to flip Ohio; Clinton would have won in 2016 if she had not neglected critical states like Wisconsin and insulted millions of voters in the process.

For those pointing out how ludicrous it is to think of a failed face from the past making a comeback, consider one other name: Richard Nixon. The Republican vice president lost the presidency in 1960, lost the California governor’s race in 1962 and then left politics, telling reporters: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

But he came back to win the presidency in 1968 and 1972 — although, as we know, it all didn’t end well for him or for the country.

Of course, Democrats have a number of younger and, arguably, more popular potential candidates who could represent that “new generation” — including Govs. Gavin Newsom of California (age 55) and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan (51) or Secretary Buttigieg (41). But each would pose the embarrassing, maybe fatally divisive challenge of explaining the abandonment of Kamala Harris, who is only 58.

Are the chances of a superstar from the past becoming the 2024 nominee a pipe-dream? Most likely.

But with the river of political denial threatening to wash away the Democrats’ chances in 2024, what else is a party to do? Besides, politics has a funny way of stunning us — as Donald Trump proved in 2016.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

Tags 2024 presidential candidates 2024 presidential election 2024 presidential race Al Gore Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Biden biden 2024 Democratic Party Democratic Party presidential primaries Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Gavin Newsom Gretchen Whitmer Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Kerry Kamala Harris Michelle Obama Pete Buttigieg

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