United States President Joe Biden has officially announced his re-election bid, ending months of waiting that has, at times, included speculation the 80-year-old leader could step aside in favour of a younger Democrat.
The announcement on Tuesday sends the former Delaware Senator and vice president from Scranton, Pennsylvania, on an accelerated path to win the Democratic party’s nomination ahead of the 2024 general election.
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It is historically rare for sitting US presidents to face meaningful election challenges from within their party, and no mainstream candidates have said they will challenge Biden in the primary.
So far, the Democratic brass has also overcome concerns over Biden’s age and shown party unity for the most part, said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in the Governance Studies programme at the Brookings Institution.
“People may wish he was 60 years old, not 80 years old. But there’s nothing you could do about that. It just is what it is,” she said of Biden, who is currently the oldest president ever to hold the role.
“Democrats like the way he has governed and see him as competent and steady. And that is a big change from the last president,” she added.
Early polls show tight race
Simon Rosenberg, president and founder of the left-leaning New Democrat Network think tank, believes that Biden’s solid showing during his first term will be a potent draw for voters: “The bottom line is Joe Biden’s been a good president. He’s gonna have a strong case for re-election.”
Nevertheless, polls have shown lacklustre support for Biden in recent weeks, with a recent NBC News poll showing only 26 percent of Americans think the president should run again. The other 70 percent polled said he should not, with nearly half citing Biden’s age.
That poll also showed 51 percent of Democrats were against a Biden re-election campaign, similar to the findings of a recent AP-NORC poll which found 47 percent of Democrats did not want to see Biden run again.
Meanwhile, other polls indicate the potential for a tight race in the general election, whether Biden faces Trump or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, considered a top Republican challenger though he has yet to announce his candidacy.
A Wall Street Journal survey of 1,500 voters, published this month, shows DeSantis narrowly leading in a hypothetical matchup against Biden, with 48 percent of the vote to Biden’s 45.
The Democrat had better odds in a hypothetical face-off against Trump, who trailed behind Biden by three percentage points.
Biden versus the ‘MAGA’ Republicans
Rosenberg believes both Trump and DeSantis represent a continued trend towards so-called “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) candidates on the Republican side of the political spectrum.
A reference to Trump’s 2016 campaign tagline, the acronym MAGA has come to represent populist conservative politics in the US.
But candidates like Trump, who represent the MAGA mindset, face significant hurdles before election day. Trump in particular has a slate of ongoing legal woes: In April, for instance, he became the first former president to be indicted on felony charges for falsifying business records.
Biden has also already shown his ability to outperform Trump in several key Rust Belt states. In 2020, he defeated Trump in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — all longtime Democratic strongholds that had previously tilted towards the Republican leader in 2016.
Biden also won Arizona and Georgia, becoming the first Democrat to carry the states since the 1990s.
“The Republicans have struggled in the battlegrounds in the last three elections running on MAGA. And right now it sure looks like they’re gonna run MAGA again,” Rosenberg told Al Jazeera. “It means that right now, I’d rather be us than them.”
Under the US Electoral College system, the president is elected not by the national popular vote but instead by “electoral” votes allocated to each state based on the size of its congressional delegation, which in turn is determined by the number of people in a given state.
That system, however, gives several smaller states an outsized influence at the polls. Each state gets a minimum of three electoral votes, no matter how small its population is.
Democratic strategist Arshad Hasan argued that Biden will remain a particularly strong candidate if Republicans continue their emphasis on attacking issues like abortion access, LGBTQ rights and so-called “woke” culture.
“In terms of [Biden’s] weaknesses, it depends on where the economy is headed and I can’t predict the future on that one. But if I were a Republican, that would be the issue that I would talk about,” Hasan told Al Jazeera.
“But right now, there’s so many other issues that are kind of crowding it out.”
Hasan added that he believes abortion to be a “huge albatross” around the necks of Republicans ever since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade last June.
That precedent had upheld federal abortion protections for nearly 50 years — and with Roe being struck down, many Republican-led states quickly moved to limit or ban the procedure.
Maintaining abortion access subsequently became a “galvanising” issue for Democrats, Hasan explained, pointing to the party’s relative success in the 2022 midterm elections. There, Democrats outperformed expectations and thwarted an anticipated “red wave” of Republican victories.
That momentum is expected to continue. “Biden is in a pretty strong position, stronger than I might have thought this time two years ago,” Hasan said. “I would say the Democratic Party is markedly united, which is good.”
Lenny McAllister, a Republican strategist, agreed that the current Republican field seems weak against Biden. He believes a more conventional candidate, focused on issues like high inflation, would prove to be a stronger threat to the Democratic incumbent, given how many US residents have felt the economy’s effect on their pocketbooks.
“As of right now, Donald Trump ignites 45 percent of the country. But that 45 percent will not be enough to win those key swing states. And Biden would likely win in a re-election bid versus Trump,” McAllister told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, “Trump would beat Vice President [Kamala] Harris. Trump would beat some of the more far-left-leaning names that have been discussed.”
That underscores the dilemma that has defined the lead-up to Biden’s announcement, McAllister said: Democrats could have either chosen a younger candidate who is politically untested, or stuck with the more reliable candidate whose age could prove a liability.
In Biden, he added, “Democrats are stuck”.