President Joe Biden on Tuesday formally launched his campaign for a second term in 2024, asking voters to keep him in office and “finish the job” of a historic American recovery that started after he vanquished Donald Trump in 2020.
Biden’s long-awaited announcement allows him to begin fundraising 18 months out from the November general election. In a video, the president echoed several familiar themes he outlined when he first took charge of the country during the spiraling Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, taking office days after insurrectionists seized the U.S. Capitol.
“When I ran for president four years ago, I said we are in a battle for the soul of America. And we still are,” he said in the video, titled “Freedom” and filled with images from his visits across the country touting his legislative accomplishments.
“The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer. I know what I want the answer to be and I think you do, too,” he said. “This is not a time to be complacent. That’s why I’m running for re-election.”
Biden, already the oldest U.S. president at 80, faces no shortage of obstacles in a campaign that will force him to balance his daily demands at the White House with the rigors of raising money and pressing the flesh in several battleground states. Little mystery looms over how he plans to tackle the job: He will rely on the same inner circle of top advisers he has maintained since his 2020 campaign, and in many cases far longer. And he has already remade the Democratic National Committee in his image, reordering the early state primary calendar to promote South Carolina to first, demoting Iowa, and choosing a union-focused bid by Chicago to host his DNC festivities next summer.
While he’s managed to quiet most of his party’s restive elements, Biden enters the race in historically precarious territory. His approval ratings hover in the low 40s, tumbling and remaining there since he presided over the chaotic and deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. That’s around the mark where several of his predecessors stood at this point in their presidencies before they were denied second terms, though Barack Obama is an exception.
But White House officials and presidential advisers have repeatedly pointed to the unpopularity of Biden’s potential opponents, namely Trump, whose approval ratings are generally worse than his. And Biden himself is known to implore Americans to compare him “to the alternative — not the Almighty.”
Biden’s entry comes as Trump continues to lead the Republican primary field, though that contest is far from settled. The president could face a rematch with Trump, a battle the White House and party leaders feel secure about not just because Biden won in 2020 but also because of better-than-expected midterms last fall. Trump also is 76. But should Biden encounter another Republican rival such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is 44, it would present possible new challenges given his relative youth.
Biden has received clean bills of health from his doctors. If elected, he would be 86 at the end of his second term, nearly a decade older than the U.S. male life expectancy. His advisers, when pressed on the potential for yawning age gaps between Biden and his GOP opponent, argue the president has the stamina and exuberance to withstand the grueling job and campaign. They contend any Republican who makes it out of the primary — whether it’s Trump or someone else — is likely to have adopted or at least embraced the former president’s MAGA movement that Democrats view as extreme and unappealing to average voters.
Biden reminded voters of that in his video, which begins with scenes from the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Every generation of Americans has faced a moment when they’ve had to defend democracy, stand up for our personal freedoms and stand up for our right to vote and our civil rights,” Biden said. “This is ours. Let’s finish the job.”
Along with pointing to sharp contrasts in their approaches on everything from abortion rights to expanding healthcare and raising taxes on the wealthy, Biden’s reelection push also will revolve around what he helped deliver over his first four years.
Biden will point to the calendar to make his case. He took the oath of office in 2021 at a U.S. Capitol battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. There, with America’s tradition of peaceful transfers of power never appearing more fragile, the ceremony unfolded within a circle of security forces evocative of a war zone and devoid of crowds because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, on that cold Washington morning filled with snow flurries, Biden gazed out on the National Mall to see more than 200,000 American flags planted to symbolize those who could not attend in person.
Biden reminded voters that some of those threats the nation faced to democracy at the start of his term remain.
“This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue. To protect our rights. To make sure that everyone in this country is treated equally. And that everyone is given a fair shot at making it,” he said in his announcement video. “But around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take those bedrock freedoms away.”
And then he began to shepherd legislation into law. The list is not insignificant, from billions of dollars to address the pandemic and infrastructure projects, to major pushes on climate change and mental health, bipartisan deals on gun safety and domestic microchip manufacturing, as well as measures to protect veterans from toxic burn pits and shield marriages between same-sex couples. Biden nominated, and Democrats confirmed, Ketanji Brown Jackson to serve on the Supreme Court, making her the first Black woman in the high court. And there’s the prolific string of federal judges that have been nominated under this White House.
But few, if any, of those efforts have been as daunting as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden and Western allies rallied to the side of Ukraine, supplying it with weapons and reinforcement and imposing heavy sanctions on Russia. On the one-year anniversary of the war, Biden made a triumphant visit to Kyiv that many in the U.S. and around the world saw as an act of defiance against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked aggression. But Biden still faces the tall task of navigating European divisions over how to end the war.
His political objectives at home are far more straightforward, particularly among Democrats. He faces no credible threats from within his own party, having spent months rallying the next generation of Democrats behind his increasingly inevitable reelection run. Biden’s team has been coordinating with donors, inviting heavy hitters to the White House and arranging small clutches with others said to already be planning events.
And his team believes the electoral map remains tilted in his favor. In 2020, he won back the Great Lakes trio of states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — that Trump swiped four years earlier and Biden has relentlessly campaigned in those states, touting his middle class roots and union support. And Democrats believe that suburban dismay at Trump’s behavior and some extreme Republican positions on issues like abortion and guns could slide new battleground states like Georgia and Arizona in the president’s column.
But beyond his own general election, the 2024 race will again be a test of Biden’s down-ticket prowess.
Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate and have a daunting path to retaining it. Their path to regaining the House runs through some states where they faltered in 2020 over issues like urban crime, namely in New York. Democrats were quick to rally around the standard bearer in the minutes after Biden’s announcement, with elected officials seemingly racing each other to put out statements of support.
Biden, in a way, remains an unlikely recipient of his party’s love. Four years ago, in his third run for the presidency, Biden staked his candidacy less on any distinctive political ideology than on galvanizing a broad coalition of voters around the notion that Trump posed an existential threat to American democracy. After a series of early setbacks, a dramatic comeback in the South Carolina primary paved the way for the field to coalesce around Biden, who then benefitted from a pandemic campaign that largely kept him off the road and away from his frequent verbal missteps.
Since taking office, Biden has tried to take down the temperature in Washington, work across the aisle and ignore Trump. But his predecessor has displayed a remarkable hold on the Republican party and, at least for now, possesses a commanding lead in the GOP primary field.
And it is the danger that Trump poses that stands as Biden’s primary motivation to run again. Earlier this month, Trump became the first former president charged with a crime and stands at the center of several more legal probes. But he also remains, in Biden’s estimation, an existential threat to the republic — and the incumbent president, advisers have said, does not believe anyone else in the Democratic party could take on and defeat Trump.
Biden’s video predominately featured Kamala Harris, who will remain his running mate, ending a Beltway parlor game with little connection to reality that the vice president could be replaced on the ticket. Harris, the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president, got off to a rocky start in the post but has found her footing in recent months, particularly as a passionate voice on abortion rights.
White House aides have insisted there was never any discussion of replacing Harris, and acknowledge that Black women remain the heart of the Democratic Party. But those close to Biden recognize that the president’s age could place Harris far closer to the center of this campaign this time around.
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