President Biden’s recent string of legislative victories has cooled anxious chatter within the Democratic Party about his intention to seek reelection, but political strategists remain divided on how long the reprieve will last.
Some analysts say the wins have rallied Democrats who were previously on the fence about Mr. Biden’s reelection bid.
“The talk about Biden not running in 2024 has definitely cooled down,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “I think the passage of the ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ has a lot to do with that.”
Heading into the August congressional recess in Washington, Mr. Biden signed into law several key priorities including Democrats’ long-stalled $740 billion climate-and-tax law. He secured $280 billion in science and technology spending that includes a $52 billion payout to semiconductor manufacturers, and signed sweeping healthcare benefits for veterans exposed to hazardous toxins in the line of duty and the nation’s first new gun control bill in decades.
The president returned to Washington Wednesday from vacation in Delaware, announcing that he is canceling student loan debt for many borrowers, a move pushed by the far left of his party. On Thursday, Mr. Biden will rally Democrats at two party events in suburban Maryland.
Still, among voters’ top concerns in several recent polls is something Mr. Biden can’t change — his age. At 79, he is the oldest president in office and Republicans have, since he was elected, honed in on gaffes which they say call his mental capacity into question.
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“Democrats have a real challenge coming forward in ’24,” said Pope “Mac” McCorkle III, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. “For your standard bearer to have questions — somewhat separate from job performance — just simply on the age issue that’s gonna be a challenge for the Democrats.”
“Given the age factor and given people’s ambitions, I think you’re going to continue to see Democrats try to find ways to signal an alternative,” he said. “There is a little bit of courtesy and civility temporarily, but I think you will continue to see potential 2024 alternatives try to find a respectful way to get their names out there just in case.”
Democrats are also pointing to their victory on Tuesday in New York’s “bellwether” 19th Congressional District, where Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Rep. Marcus Molinaro in a special election, as a good sign for the party hearing into the November midterms.
Growing reluctance among Democrats to back Mr. Biden’s reelection has, in recent months, added to the stress of his sinking poll numbers and stops-and-starts on Capitol Hill.
Progressive Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York outright refused to endorse Mr. Biden in a television appearance in June. Democratic Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney and Jerrold Nadler cast doubt on Mr. Biden’s bid for reelection while on the debate stage in New York. Ms. Maloney later walked back her remarks, only to double down on her assertion that “he’s not running again,” in an “off-the-record” remark to the New York Times editorial board.
The New York Times also published an opinion piece published earlier this month entitled ‘Hey Joe, Don’t Give It a Go.’
Mr. Bannon said the passage of the president’s marquee spending bill was most effective in silencing criticism among progressives in the party, who have been the most vocal in downplaying Mr. Biden’s bid for reelection.
“It addressed their concern that we weren’t doing anything to fight the dangers that are coming from climate change,” he said. “And I think Biden turning over [Sen. Joe] Manchin and getting him to vote for the package basically reinforces Biden’s argument that he’s a guy who can get things done.”
Mr. Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, was the pivotal vote in allowing Senate Democrats to pass Mr. Biden’s initiative.
Recent polling suggests that Mr. Biden’s wins are resonating with voters as well, at least in the short term.
A Morning Consult Poll published last week showed Mr. Biden’s standing among voters improving over the past few weeks. According to the survey conducted Aug. 12-14, Mr. Biden reached 42% approval among voters which, while still low, is a notable improvement after slipping to 39% in June.
And the brief wind in Mr. Biden’s sails comes at an important time, as Democrats eye what is expected to be a challenging midterm election in November. Mr. Biden will kick off his party’s midterm push in earnest by headlining a Democratic National Committee event in the Maryland suburbs near Washington on Thursday.
While Mr. Bannon expects the series of wins to serve as a long-term boost for the president, some experts remain unconvinced that the resurgence will last, and they expect questions surrounding Mr. Biden’s reelection to reemerge.
“I’m not sure that having a couple of legislative victories now will make a difference after the midterms,” said Timothy Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa. “After the midterms, and we see what happens there, that’s probably where we’re going to start revisiting that question.”
The post-midterm backlash against Mr. Biden would be significantly more pronounced if Democrats lose their majorities in Congress, Mr. McCorkle said.
Mr. Hagle said voters are especially unconvinced by the Inflation Reduction Act, and despite it uniting the party in the short term, its positive political effects could be short-lived.
“There’s a pretty good deal of skepticism about whether it’s actually going to do much, if anything, to reduce inflation,” he said, adding that it is likely to lose its pull among voters if they don’t see the economic benefits eventually from the bill.
Republican National Committee spokesperson Will O’Grady is more blunt in his assessment.
“If Joe Biden thinks he can win by making life worse for Americans, be our guest,” he said. “There is no greater burden for Democrats than Biden and his agenda. The ‘Inflation Reduction Act’ was what everyone knew it was – makeup on a pig of more inflation, 87,000 new IRS agents, and new taxes.”
Voter sentiment is a key factor that will make or break Democrats’ decisions to rally behind Mr. Biden, said Mr. McCorkle. And in that regard, Mr. Biden still faces an uphill battle.
Despite a slight uptick in popularity in recent weeks, the 79-year-old Mr. Biden continues to struggle with a growing number of polls that show voters are less than enthused with the prospect of him running for reelection.
A Quinnipiac University poll in July found that just 24% of Americans overall and 40% of Democrats said Mr. Biden should seek reelection.
A University of Berkeley Institute of Government Studies poll published last week showed that 61% of California voters oppose Mr. Biden seeking a second term, with Democratic voters evenly split, 46% in favor and 46% opposed.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, are among the top picks of California Democrats for the ticket in 2024, with each receiving 13% support. Vice President Kamala Harris placed third among Democrats in her home state, with 10% support.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story, but Mr. Biden has consistently maintained that he intends to run in 2024.
Mr. McCorkle cautioned against making any firm predictions about Mr. Biden’s future, this far out.
“If Trump is running, for instance, solidarity [within the Democratic Party] may work itself out,” he said. “But it’s still gonna be a challenge.”
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