Democratic malcontents eye Biden-Harris alternatives, but few names emerge

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris arrive for a meeting with the National Governors Association in the East Room, Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Democratic malcontents eye Biden-Harris alternatives, but few names emerge

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As President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris prepare for a 2024 White House run, some Democrats are eyeing the field of alternatives, wary of a reelection fight that offers new obstacles.

And while some Democratic donors privately say alternatives to a Biden-Harris ticket in 2024 exist and they have options, they are reluctant to out their purported targets.

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The dynamic hints at the scramble among some party malcontents to shore up potential alternatives in the event Biden chooses to step aside. The president is expected to run for reelection with Harris by his side, but pending a formal announcement, there remains speculation over who could step into the breach if the need arises.

“They say we need somebody new who can walk upstairs and can complete a sentence,” one campaign strategist said, referencing Biden’s occasional foibles and that the prospect of a Biden reelection bid draws sighs.

Asked how these Democratic donors feel about Harris, this person responded, “They just stare at me.”

Nor is Biden’s transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, a deft communicator whose performance in the 2020 Democratic primaries vaulted him to national attention, immune from donor skepticism.

“It won’t be him,” the strategist said. “Just wait and see.”

Still, a senior Democratic aide downplayed the chatter as “delusional.”

“It’s bracket season,” this person added, dismissing the notion that Biden would step aside.

Some Democrats nevertheless worry about 2024. The race would likely pit an octogenarian president and his low-polling vice president against a Republican field likely to include a GOP governor who notched record electoral margins in a battleground state last year, including in Democratic Miami-Dade County. 

As the front-runner for his party, former President Donald Trump also maintains a unique edge: a clear lead among Republican primary voters of color, according to recent polls.

It makes certain Democrats pine for other choices.

Already the oldest sitting U.S. president, Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term. The president’s traction with swing voters has collapsed. Yet reports suggest Biden is not persuaded that Harris or any other Democrat could beat Trump in a head-to-head race.

And while the two running mates are understood to have a good working relationship, sticking points remain, with one former White House official describing the struggle “as a question of consistently rising to the occasion,” according to Reuters.

“I think his running for reelection is less about her and more about him, but I do think that she and the Democratic bench [are] a factor,” this person said.

“A point of tension in their relationship is that I don’t think that the president sees her as somebody who takes anything off of his plate [due to] a fear of messing up,” another former White House official told the outlet.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has also seized on these concerns, charging on the campaign trail last year that Harris was Biden’s “insurance” policy against being removed from office.

Democrats have also questioned Harris’s political acumen, appearing to doubt the mettle of the woman poised to succeed Biden.

Harris defenders argue that while people may not like her, she is no longer a rookie. Regardless, a vice president won’t be a determinate factor for voters come Election Day, they add.

In a March op-ed, Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic strategist and Harris defender, said critics are holding the vice president to unreasonable standards. Brazile also spoke to the prospect of Harris as Biden’s successor, saying, “Questions have been raised about the fitness of just about every vice president to move into the Oval Office should the president die or is unable to continue serving for another reason.”

Moreover, the window for alternatives is closing. During the 2020 presidential nominating contest, Democrats held their first primary debate in June 2019. And few see a scenario in which Harris would be handed a place at the top of the ticket without challengers.

It’s not just donors and party faithful who harbor reservations over a Biden-Harris reelection bid.

A focus group of Michigan swing voters who backed Biden unanimously in 2020 said they would like to see the president challenged for the Democratic nomination in 2024.

But while the focus group referenced Biden’s age and questioned his fitness for office, participants struggled to name alternatives.

Several participants voiced concerns about Harris stepping into Biden’s role if the need ever arose, even as one stressed that he “would love the idea of having a person of color be our president, especially a woman,” just not Harris. That voter groaned, then voiced agreement when asked whether Biden should choose another running mate.

Several voters said they would be more comfortable with Biden seeking reelection with another vice president in Harris’s place.

Biden’s aides have dismissed concerns over Biden’s health, with the president’s physician declaring him “healthy, vigorous,” and “fit for duty.”

Speaking to Politico, one House Democrat “demanded to know who else was out there and said Harris wasn’t an option” after instructing the reporter to turn off their phone.

In a move that appears intended to neuter any potential competitors, the White House is preparing to assemble an “advisory” cabinet of influential surrogates, many presumed to harbor their own presidential aspirations.

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If Biden’s health falters, prominent Democrats may sense an opening, a Democratic operative from a rival 2020 campaign said.

“I can see no lack of enthusiasm for a Biden challenge if there are any health issues,” said a Democratic operative from a rival 2020 campaign. “No one expects a Harris coronation if Biden decides not to run again.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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