Topline

Growing concerns over President Joe Biden’s age and ability to effectively serve a second term have fueled speculation he could, despite his campaign’s forceful denials, drop out of the 2024 presidential race—leaving these Democrats best poised to step into his shoes if he does.

Key Facts

Biden’s age, coupled with his habit of rhetorical gaffes and low approval rating, have fueled speculation among politicos for months about possible Biden replacements, though most of the suggestions are fierce defenders of the president who have rejected any assertions they would challenge Biden.

If health issues were to prevent Biden from fulfilling the duties of the presidency—and render him unable to run for a second term—Vice President Kamala Harris would be elevated to the presidency, but it doesn’t mean she would replace him as the party’s nominee.

Harris is the most obvious, de facto pick for a potential Biden replacement on the general election ticket, but her bleak polling numbers (her approval rating currently stands at 38%, according to FiveThirtyEight) would likely raise concerns that she could lose the general election to former President Donald Trump, the GOP’s presumptive nominee.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s political activity, including his support for Democrats in elections outside of California, prompted rumors last year he was running a “shadow campaign” for the White House, but Newsom has firmly dismissed the possibility, vowing his allegiance to Biden’s 2024 campaign and serving as a Biden campaign surrogate.

Other Democratic governors who have elevated their national profiles—Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro—are also regularly listed as potential Biden alternatives, especially after all four won gubernatorial races by double digits in 2022, but they’re all stumping for Biden’s 2024 campaign and have ruled out running against him.

An advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is a year older than Biden, said in a 2022 memo he hadn’t ruled out a run for president in 2024 in the event of an open primary, but Sanders has since pledged to sit out the race and has endorsed Biden instead (Sanders ran in the 2016 and 2020 primaries but fell short to Hillary Clinton and Biden, and some Democrats fear his status as a self-described democratic socialist could harm his general election chances).

None of the candidates currently running against Biden are considered viable challengers, but they could see Biden dropping out of the race as a chance to build enthusiasm for their long-shot candidacies—those challengers include independents Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West, and Democratic primary contender Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.).

Surprising Fact

The unfounded theory that Democrats could elevate Michelle Obama as their 2024 nominee has been circulating for years, as polls have shown she has high favorability ratings. But Obama has said repeatedly she will never run for president and doesn’t want the job.

Tangent

Even if Biden were to drop out of the race, a new candidate would be unlikely to surpass his delegate count, since the filing deadlines to get on the primary ballot in all but six states have already passed. Since delegates are not required to support the nominee at the party’s Aug. 19 convention, Biden could urge them to support another candidate in the unlikely event that he ends up dropping out. If Biden were to win the nomination at the convention, but was unable to run in the November general election, convention rules would require Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison to consult Congress and the Democratic Governors Association to recommend a new nominee to the Democratic National Committee.

Big Number

86%. That’s the share of Americans who think Biden is too old to serve another term, according to an ABC/Ipsos poll released Monday. Some 62% of Americans think 77-year-old Trump is too old to serve as president.

Key Background

A DOJ report last week cleared Biden of criminal charges in its investigation of his handling of classified documents, but included some blistering comments about Biden’s age. The report, released Thursday following a year-long investigation, found Biden “willfully” retained classified materials, but the DOJ chose not to bring charges out of concerns a jury would be hard-pressed to convict someone they could perceive as a “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.” The report alleges Biden’s memory was “significantly limited” in interviews with a ghostwriter in 2017 and with the special counsel last year. The description, along with a fresh string of verbal flubs on the campaign trail, have intensified Republican criticism that Biden is too old to run for a second term. Biden’s allies have staunchly defended the president and criticized the description of his mental faculties in the report. Meanwhile, Biden’s approval rating stands at around 38% and Trump leads in many general election polls, according to FiveThirtyEight, prompting fears about his chances in November’s race.

Chief Critics

“I’ve been with the president of the United States many times,” Pritzker said at an unrelated press conference Friday. “He is on the ball. The man knows more than most of us have forgotten.” Harris also rebuked the report as “gratuitous, inaccurate and inappropriate,” and alleged the characterization of Biden’s memory is “clearly politically motivated.”

Crucial Quote

“I’m well-meaning, and I’m an elderly man — and I know what the hell I’m doing,” Biden said Thursday in response to the report.

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