Briefing

If not Biden, then who?

Kamala Harris? Gavin Newsom? Michelle Obama…?

President Biden says he's running in 2024. But what happens if he doesn't? Here's everything you need to know:

Is Biden running?

He says he is.

Earlier this month, the 79-year-old president rejected the idea that a large majority of his own party's voters don't want him on the ballot in 2024 when a reporter cited poll numbers that showed only 26 percent of Democrats want Biden to be the nominee. "Read the polls, Jack!" Biden said. "You guys are all the same. That poll showed that 92 percent of Democrats, if I ran, would vote for me."

This statement was somewhat misleading: 92 percent said they would vote for Biden in a general election rematch with Trump, not that they wanted him to run. If he does run, however, Biden is very likely to be the nominee. No sitting president in modern American history has been successfully primaried and attempts to challenge the incumbent usually end up hurting him in the general election.

If Biden makes a 2024 bid, he'll probably clear the field. But "if Biden wasn't the candidate, then it's open season," Tampa-area Democrat Doris Carroll told The Wall Street Journal

Kamala Harris

Generally speaking, a vice president who wants to be the nominee gets to be the nominee. Think Hubert Humphrey, Al Gore, or George H.W. Bush. In this case, however, Harris looks particularly vulnerable. The Journal notes that her approval ratings are even worse than Biden's, while The Washington Post notes that she struggled to "differentiate herself" from the unpopular president under whom she serves — though that could change. Harris is reportedly planning to make a series of visits to purple and red states to deliver an abortion rights message that Politico describes as "aggressive."

Harris consistently outperformed other potential 2024 contenders in polls conducted during Biden's first year in office, but her numbers have slipped in recent months.

Michelle Obama

If polls are anything to go by, the new heir apparent to the Democratic Party is none other than Michelle Obama. Surveys conducted between Nov. 2021 and June 2022 by McLaughlin and Associates (M&A) found her consistently winning a Biden-less primary, beating Harris by a margin of up to 7 points.

The only problem is, the former first lady says she doesn't want to run. "We just can't find the women we like and ask them to do it, because there are millions of women who are inclined and do have the passion for politics," she said in 2018. "I've never had the passion for politics."

Gavin Newsom

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has said he won't challenge Biden if the president mounts a re-election campaign. In May, he told the San Francisco Chronicle he has "sub-zero" interest in running at all and is "hopeful" that Harris will be the next president.

Despite these comments, Newsom appears to be positioning himself to run in an open primary by taking the fight to conservatives. In Texas, he took out full-page ads comparing his own positions on abortion and gun control to those of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R). In Florida, he ran a TV spot slamming Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). He even posts videos on former President Donald Trump's Truth Social platform.

J.B. Pritzker

Billionaire hotel heir and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also ruled out challenging Biden, but he has been hitting the road and "expanding his national profile" in recent months with trips to Maine, New Hampshire, and Florida, the Journal notes. Pritzker's aides say his out-of-state travels are meant to support Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Pritzker will need to win his own gubernatorial race first, but that shouldn't be a problem after he successfully maneuvered Illinois Republicans into nominating a Trumpist state senator rather than a far more electable Black suburban mayor.

Pete Buttigieg

In The Washington Post's ranking of "most likely Democratic candidates for president in 2024," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg ranks second only to President Biden. Mayor of a mid-size city to transportation secretary to president isn't exactly a typical pipeline, but Buttigieg was a strong contender in the 2020 primaries, winning the most delegates in the Iowa caucus before dropping out and endorsing Biden just before Super Tuesday.

The Post claims Buttigieg's greatest strength is his ability to "combat the right's talking points in a calm and steady manner." The most recent M&A poll has him placing third in a Biden-free primary with 8 percent of the vote.

Bernie Sanders

He wouldn't exactly solve the "Biden is too old" problem: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) turned three months old the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt condemned Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor — but he's still popular with a big chunk of the Democratic base, and no clear successor has arisen to fill his niche.

In April, Sanders' 2020 campaign sent a memo informing his supporters that, "[i]n the event of an open primary," the democratic socialist "had not ruled out another run for president."  

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in 2016, places fourth in the M&A's June open primary poll with 7 percent of the vote. Obviously, she has strong name recognition, but political consultant Douglas Schoen suggests that she might have more going for her than that. In a July 3 op-ed for The Hill, Schoen argued that the "perfect storm" of Biden's unpopularity and the lack of "any other rising stars who could ... win in a general election" has left Clinton as Democrats' best chance for 2024. Conservative writer John Ellis also made the case for Clinton, arguing on Substack that the fall of Roe v. Wade (1973) gives her the perfect opportunity "to get out of stealth mode and start down the path toward declaring her candidacy for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination."

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is just barely old enough to run in 2024 — she'd turn 35 about three months before Inauguration Day. Last month, she dodged a question from Stephen Colbert about whether she was considering a 2024 bid. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," AOC told the Late Show host.

The Squad member is a darling to the party's progressive wing, but she's untested outside of deep blue Brooklyn. Political strategist Dick Morris, who ran Bill Clinton's 1996 campaign before becoming a Republican, claimed in a new book that AOC could win the Democratic primary but would "likely lose more than 40 states" in the general election. On the other hand, Morris notoriously predicted that Mitt Romney would win a landslide victory in 2012, so who knows?

Anyone else?

Other names that have been floated include Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Secretary of State John Kerry, Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), and Chris Murphy (Conn.). Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (Texas) and former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams have also received buzz, but they'll need to win their gubernatorial races if they want a shot at the big job, and both are trailing in the polls.

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