Briefing

The Democrats who could run against Joe Biden in 2024

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:

The latest:

Biden recently clarified his statements about his plans for the 2024 presidential election. In a CBS News' 60 Minutes interview in September, Biden remarked that it was too early for him to officially announce that he will be running, citing the responsibilities that follow the decision. He made it clear that while he intends to run again, the final decision is still in the air. 

"Look, my intention, as I said to begin with, is that I would run again," Biden said. "But it's just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen."

In a recent interview for MSNBC, Biden told the host that first lady Jill Biden supported him taking a second run at running for president.  "My wife thinks that we're doing something very important and that I shouldn't walk away from it," he said.

Is Biden running?

He said he is, but recent interviews make it clear his final decision has yet to be made. 

Over the summer, 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. Here's who might enter the ring in that case:

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, Vice President Kamala 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 early polls conducted during Biden's first year in office, but her numbers began to slip as her term as Vice President went on. 

Harris continues to be a front-runner whether or not Biden chooses to run in 2024. Despite her persistently low approval rate, polls show she is still the number one choice after Biden. A September Morning Consult/Politico poll shows Harris leading the list of potential candidates if Biden did not run, with 28 percent of likely voters leaning toward her in a Biden-less primary. 

The October Harvard CAPS/Harris poll also has Harris at the top of the list if Biden does not run, with 25 percent choosing her as an alternative. If Biden was to run against Harriss in the primary, he would likely beat her, according to the 37 percent of voters who said they would choose him. Harris comes in second, with 13 percent of those surveyed choosing her.

Michelle Obama

If polls are anything to go by, the new heir apparent to the Democratic Party is none other than Michelle Obama. Early surveys found her consistently winning a Biden-less primary, beating Harris.

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.

In an interview with CBS News in October, Newsom reiterated that he had no intentions of running for president. Newsom 

"It's not my ambition," Newsom insisted. "It's not the direction that I'm leaning into. It's not the moment."  When asked if he could say he would never run for president, Newsom replied, "Yeah, I have no interest." He also confirmed that he supports Biden running for re-election. 

"I don't think there's been two years of more effective policy-making of a modern American president," Newsom said. "It's been a masterclass the last two years, not necessarily in effective communication and generating narrative, but in terms of the substance under the circumstance, with all the headwinds, the obfuscation and opposition. I think it's been remarkable."

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 Harvard/Harris poll has him placing fourth in a Biden-free primary with 10 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 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."

However, Clinton told the Financial Times "No," a 2024 bid is "out of the question," pointing to her expectation that Biden will run again. 

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.

Update Nov. 7, 2022: This article has been updated to reflect the latest comments from Biden.

Recommended

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy's bid for House speaker may really be in peril
Kevin McCarthy
You don't have the votes

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy's bid for House speaker may really be in peril

The North Korean nuclear threat, explained
Kim Jong-Un.
Briefing

The North Korean nuclear threat, explained

Movies to watch in December
A movie theater.
Briefing

Movies to watch in December

Who is Nick Fuentes, the bigot who dined with Trump?
Nick Fuentes.
Briefing

Who is Nick Fuentes, the bigot who dined with Trump?

Most Popular

World's 1st hydrogen-powered jet engine could mark turning point for aviation industry
A Rolls-Royce engine seen during an airshow.
Flying High

World's 1st hydrogen-powered jet engine could mark turning point for aviation industry

Sanctions apparently hurting Russia's economy, Ukraine war effort
Vladimir Putin
New Pain no gain

Sanctions apparently hurting Russia's economy, Ukraine war effort

China's Xi has few good options amid protests of 'zero COVID' policy
Anti-zero COVID protest in Beijing
China's COVID protests

China's Xi has few good options amid protests of 'zero COVID' policy