Nearly seven in ten Americans believe their country is on the “wrong track.” The incumbent president will turn 81 on Election Day 2024. More than half of voters in his own party do not want him to run for re-election.
But as President Biden embarks on his campaign for a second term, Democratic officials are adamant that he is starting his bid Tuesday from ground much firmer than his personal stature indicates. Democratic unity has stifled even the hint of insurrection within the parties. The issues that dominate the country’s politics have largely worked in favor of Democrats. And a battlefield narrowed to just a handful of states means, at least for now, that the 2024 campaign will be fought on favorable Democratic territory.
“I will always worry because we are a very divided country and presidential races will be close no matter who is in it,” said Anne Caprara, who helped lead Hillary Clinton’s super PAC in 2016 and is now chief of staff to the Democratic governor of Illinois, J. B. Pritzker. “But for the first time in my career, I think the Republicans have painted themselves in a terrible position. They lose and they don’t seem to see it.”
No doubt Mr. Biden’s personal commitments are tugging at the Democrats’ worn-out concerns. Despite low unemployment, a remarkably resilient economy and an enviable legislative record in his first two years, the octogenarian president never quite won over the country, or even the voters in his party. Mr. Biden is losing to a generic Republican presidential nominee, 47 percent to 41 percent, according to a new NBC News poll.
“President Biden is in remarkably weak shape for an incumbent candidate running for re-election,” said Bill McInturff, a veteran Republican pollster who co-leads the NBC News poll.
Republicans intend to play on those uncertainties, harping on Mr. Biden’s age and fragility and portraying him as the weakest sitting president to run for re-election since Jimmy Carter tried 44 years ago. Former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign is already looking beyond the upcoming battle for the Republican nomination to contrast the strength of personality of an aggressive challenger against a vulnerable incumbent.
“This is a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” said Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, adding, “If they think that’s their greatest strength, they’re going to have a long, miserable year. ”
But the political fundamentals look significantly better than Mr Biden’s personal endorsement.
By avoiding a serious primary challenge, Mr. Biden will not spend the next year battling members of his own party over tough issues like immigration, crime, gender and abortion in a way that could scare off swing voters. Instead, he can bide his time in ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking works for roads and bridges, semiconductor factories, electric vehicle manufacturers and solar energy projects resulting from his three greatest legislative achievements: the infrastructure bill, the “chips and science”- law and the inflation law. Reduction Act, with its huge tax incentives for clean energy.
Trump’s mere presence in the Republican primary will help Democrats make a choice between the two parties in the 2024 campaign, not a referendum on the incumbent, a much tougher challenge for the party in power, Jim said Messina, who led the last successful presidential re-election campaign, that of Barack Obama in 2012. Early polls, both in key states like wisconsin and nationally, let Mr. Biden maintain a small lead over Mr. Trump, but even with or behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Republicans’ narrow control of the House has also provided a foil to Mr. Biden in the months before a Republican presidential nominee emerges, much as the Republican Congress helped Mr. Obama.
And then there’s the map.
The 2022 midterm elections should have been a disaster for a president with low approval ratings. Instead, in two critical states—Pennsylvania and Michigan—the Democratic Party massively strengthened its hand and its electoral infrastructure, winning gubernatorial races in both states, with the Pennsylvania House going to the Democrats and the Michigan legislature falling to the complete democratic control. for the first time in nearly 40 years.
At the start of the 2024 campaign, two-thirds of the Upper Midwest’s “Blue Wall” that Trump shattered in 2016 and Biden rebuilt in 2020 appears to favor Democrats.
As partisanship increases in Democratic and Republican states, battlefields like Florida, Ohio, and Iowa have moved solidly in favor of Republicans, but other battlefields like Colorado, Virginia, and New Hampshire look reliably Democratic.
That has left only a handful of states potentially decisive next year: Wisconsin, the third stone in the “Blue Wall”; Georgia, once reliably Republican; Arizona; and Pennsylvania, especially if the political wind turns in favor of the Republicans. If Mr. Biden can shut down Pennsylvania, he only needs to win one of the other major battlefields — Wisconsin, Georgia, or Arizona — to get the necessary Electoral College votes in 2024. Even if he lost Nevada, he would still win so long while he secures New Hampshire and doesn’t split the votes of the Maine Electoral College.
Wisconsin had a split decision in 2022 with the Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, winning re-election, while the Republican Senator, Ron Johnson, also prevailed. But this month, an expensive, hard-fought race for Wisconsin state Supreme Court went to the Democratic-backed nominee by 11 percentage points, a remarkable margin.
The Democrats won the 2022 governorship in Arizona. And while they decisively lost the gubernatorial race in Georgia, they won the Senate battle between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
Those recent electoral successes point to the other major factor that appears to be in favor of the Democrats: the problems. The erosion of abortion rights following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade continues to dominate election results in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And abortion is not on the decline, largely because the socially conservative core of the Republican electorate continues to push red states and conservative judges to enact abortion restrictions.
The tragic drum roll of mass shootings has also kept gun control high on the political agenda, an issue Democrats say will help them win over suburban voters in key swing states and trap Republicans among a base of voters unwilling to compromise on gun rights and a broader electorate increasingly in favor of restrictions.
Republicans also have issues that could favor them. Crime helped deliver House seats in New York and California, securing a narrow majority in the House for the GOP. And transgender politics could help Republicans with some voter rotation. A poll for National Public Radio last summer found that 63 percent of Americans were opposed to allowing transgender women and girls to compete on teams that align with their gender identity, while broader support for LGBT rights has only gained ground. wins.
But a hotly contested primary is likely to drag the eventual candidate to the right, even on issues that might otherwise favor his party. Mr. DeSantis, widely seen as Mr. Trump’s biggest challenger, signed a six-week ban on abortion in his state, a threshold before many women even know they are pregnant.
And at some point, Republicans’ drive against transgender people and their fixation on social issues can seem bullying — or just a far cry from real issues in the lives of swing voters, said Ms. Caprara, the Illinois governor’s chief of staff.
“There’s a toxic soup between abortion, guns, gay rights, library books, African American history,” she said. “It just comes across to people as, ‘Who are these people?'”
Perhaps the biggest problem is the storm cloud on the horizon that may or may not burst: the economy. In 2020, Mr. Biden became one of the few presidential candidates in modern history to triumph over the candidate more confident in the economy in polls.
Since then, the surge in job creation from the nadir of the coronavirus pandemic has shattered monthly employment records, while unemployment rates — especially for workers of color — are at or near all-time lows. Inflation, which peaked at around 10 percent, is now around 5 percent.
Still, Biden continues to score low marks for his economic stewardship, and those numbers could worsen if the Federal Reserve continues to dampen inflation with higher interest rates, Messina, the former Obama campaign manager, warned. A new poll for CNBC found that 53 percent of Americans expect the economy to worsen, compared to 34 percent when Biden took office.
“Today I’d rather be Joe Biden,” said Mr. Messina. “But I wish I knew where the economy is going because that’s the one thing hanging out there that no one can control.”