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If Biden-Harris falters, who would be the strongest Democrat for 2024?

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A number of Democrats might be willing to admit in private that the optics for the Biden-Harris administration are starting to look shaky to downright worrisome. Here are just a few of the recent issues stacking up to bring trouble to River City: 

  • The crisis at the border involving the surge of migrants and unaccompanied minors;
  • The sometimes-confusing messaging regarding the pandemic, masks and vaccines, and continued school closures;
  • The disappointing employment numbers and rapidly accelerating inflation;
  • The latest conflict between Israel and Hamas;
  • The cyber attack against the Colonial Pipeline, which spooked some Americans into trying to hoard gasoline while reminding older voters of the “gas crisis” during the Carter administration; and
  • The $4 trillion, possibly unsustainable, infrastructure and “social safety net” program.

And then there are President Biden’s continued verbal mishaps and misstatements on issues, combined with Vice President Harris’s noticeable silence.

If the trend continues or worsens, the Democratic leadership will start to search for someone to save the 2024 presidential election. Should that happen, it can be argued that one person might fit the bill: former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.   

If you look at the roster of Democrats who ran in 2020, and those in various statehouses or the Senate who have a wide range of experience, you will find candidates either negatively tied to the coronavirus lockdowns and school closures or those who are well past 70 years old. Both examples are now considered warning flags for voters who have been worn down by the pandemic or are increasingly nervous about the wisdom of electing senior citizens to the White House.

McAuliffe, 64, hopes to reclaim the title of Virginia governor in November if voters select him as the Democratic nominee on June 8. Conventional wisdom says that may be the case — and then he’ll be on the way to what most believe will be a competitive general election campaign.  

If he’s the Democratic nominee, McAuliffe will go up against Glenn Youngkin, the well-funded and wealthy Republican nominee. At 54, Youngkin is the former co-CEO of the Washington investment firm The Carlyle Group, and he has an estimated $254 million in personal wealth. 

Although that wealth is an obvious plus for a political campaign, Youngkin is still an unknown commodity for many voters in the state. Conversely, McAuliffe is well known and generally considered to have been a successful governor. But that was before the age of Donald Trump, a pandemic, and truly poisonous partisan politics.

Knowing that, McAuliffe would be wise to lean heavily on the message he floated in 2013: “It is absolutely clear to me that Virginians want their next governor to focus on job creation and commonsense fiscal responsibility instead of divisive partisan issues.” It’s a pragmatic theme that may prove even more attractive to the American electorate come November 2024.

A 2024 McAuliffe presidential campaign would come about only in a “break glass in case of emergency” situation with the Biden-Harris team. Should that moment arrive for the Democrats, however, McAuliffe’s political and business chops are almost unrivaled. He represents a one-person national campaign who has just about seen, done and succeeded at it all.

McAuliffe started his first business at 14 years old and never looked back. Along the way, he became a banker, real estate developer, home builder, hotel owner and venture capitalist — and earned millions of dollars. To be sure, some of that business experience has involved claims of questionable stock sales, as well as McAuliffe’s controversial association with GreenTech Automotive and the alleged granting of EB-5 visas to 32 wealthy Chinese investors in exchange for an investment in the troubled company, which declared bankruptcy in 2018. 

These are issues that certainly will be highlighted by his Republican opponent in his current campaign and are likely to be held in reserve for any potential national campaign. But, it’s safe to assume that McAuliffe will still push his decades-long business career as a net positive by speaking to job creation and the concerns of small business owners.  

Aside from his business life, McAuliffe has been a political animal since 1979, when he became Jimmy Carter’s national finance director at age 22. By the early 1990s, McAuliffe became an unequaled fundraising machine that continually benefitted the Democratic Party, President Clinton, and various liberal causes.

In 2001, McAuliffe was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). During his tenure, the DNC was transformed from a perennial money-losing operation to one that raised almost $600 million and got out of debt for the first time in its history.

All this is to say that, if you are a Democrat watching the Biden-Harris administration begin to implode, consider a potential alternative who has succeeded in business and has forgotten more about presidential politics and national fundraising than most “experts” know. It might not be such a bad idea.

And if you are the Republican leadership or a possible GOP nominee for 2024, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, you might want to pay attention to a Democrat in the wings who can appeal to almost every demographic out there.

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 election Democratic Party Donald Trump Jimmy Carter Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Terry McAuliffe

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