With no other alternative, Democrats close ranks around Biden

Leading figures such as Bernie Sanders and California Governor Gavin Newsom have rushed to support the president, who has deflected doubts about his candidacy

Joe Biden at a union congress in Washington on Tuesday.
Joe Biden at a union congress in Washington on Tuesday.Andrew Harnik (AP)
Miguel Jiménez

“Four more years! Four more years!” Joe Biden managed to get the audience of a union conference in Washington to its feet on Tuesday. It was the president’s first public act since announcing his decision to run for reelection. Biden is running again for the White House, but this time, he will not have to compete against rivals from the Democratic Party, who have closed ranks around him — partly due to the lack of alternatives.

A year ago, many Democratic leaders raised the idea of finding an alternative to Biden for the 2024 elections. Not only because of his age — Biden will be almost 82 years old by the time of the vote — but also because his approval ratings were plummeting, and polls were predicting the Democrats would be wiped out in the midterms.

However, after Biden successfully managed the midterm election campaign, handing Democrats the best results registered by the party in power in the last 20 years, plans to find a replacement evaporated. After the November midterm election, Biden turned 80 and hinted that he was willing to run for reelection. And in his State of the Union address in February, he began laying the ground for an official announcement — although at that point, the question was not if he would run for reelection, but when he would announce the decision.

Biden’s official announcement has been a while in coming, but the president had been clearing the way, making it clear that he intended to run for reelection. An incumbent president has a great advantage in the primaries and recent history has shown that challenges do not end well.

Possible alternatives to Biden — such as California Governor Gavin Newsom, Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer — made it clear that they would not compete against the president. On Tuesday, following Biden’s announcement, the three were quick to rally behind him.

Pritzker opened the union event in Washington, and also showed his support for Biden on Twitter. “From beating back a deadly pandemic, to defending our very democracy, Joe Biden has been the pragmatic and thoughtful leader needed to help our nation heal from some of our most difficult days. I’m proud to support him for re-election and I’m ready for the fight ahead,” he wrote.

Newsom, meanwhile, has begun fundraising for the Biden campaign. “Our democracy is under attack. Our freedom is being stripped away. It’s time to step up—and there’s no one better to lead that fight than President Biden. Looking forward to another 4 years of his leadership. Let’s show up big today. Every dollar counts,” he posted in a message on Twitter.

And Whitmer has been no less enthusiastic about Biden’s reelection bid. “President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have spent their first term fighting for our freedom, democracy, and more rights — not less. But around the country, dangerous extremists are trying to take us backward. We cannot be complacent. It’s time to finish the job,” she tweeted, using the “finish the job” slogan from Biden’s campaign launch video.

Other leading Democratic figures have also posted supportive messages, including Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Hakeem Jeffries. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, 81, one of the party’s leftist figures and Biden’s rival in the 2020 primaries, announced that he would forgo another presidential bid of his own and instead “do everything I can to see the president is reelected.” In statements to AP, he said that the Democrats should close ranks with Biden to prevent “a Donald Trump or some other right-wing demagogue” from taking over the White House. For much of the year, Sanders had left open the possibility of running again. Now, he’s not just ruling out another White House bid, he is actively discouraging other high-profile Democrats from doing so.

A generational bridge

It was Biden himself who helped build the idea that he could be a one-term president. During the 2020 campaign, he presented himself as a transitional leader. “Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” Biden said in March 2020. “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country,” he added, while campaigning in Michigan alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Back in 2020, Harris was considered a possible alternative to Biden. But now her approval ratings are even lower than the president’s. If she were to take that step, Biden would first have to withdraw from the race.

According to polls, more than two-thirds of U.S. voters don’t want Biden to run again as a candidate, but for the Democrats, no one else is a viable alternative. The fact that Biden may face off again against his Republican rival, Donald Trump, also swayed his decision to run for reelection. After Biden announced his 2024 reelection bid, Trump charged against him in typical fashion, repeating his false allegations that the 2020 election was rigged.

Unlike in 2020, Biden has a clear path forward to winning the Democratic presidential primaries. At the moment, only minor rivals have announced their candidacy. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has announced his intention to run, but his main asset is the surname of his father, New York senator, U.S. attorney general and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968, and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated five years earlier. Marianne Williamson is another contender, but her bid is equally unlikely to dent Biden’s course.

Furthermore, the Democratic Party has redrawn the primary calendar to suit Biden. South Carolina, the first state Biden won in 2020 following his defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire, will get the ball rolling on February 3, 2024. Nevada and New Hampshire will follow on February 6, Georgia on February 13, and Michigan on February 27. The Democratic Convention, where Biden’s presidential nomination is expected to be confirmed, will take place between August 19-22, 2024, in Chicago.

Biden has shown that he is able to defeat Trump. He won the 2020 presidential election, defended against the “red wave” at the 2022 midterms, and is now taking on Trump from the White House, while the Republican is dragged through the courts. On Tuesday, Biden began his reelection campaign by appealing to the workers, an electorate that Trump has traditionally tried to win over. “I make no apologies for being labeled the most pro-union president in American history. I’m proud of it,” he told the audience at the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) legislative conference. “Wall Street didn’t build America. The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class!” he said to the hundreds of spectators, who stood up to cheer the presidential candidate.

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