President Joe Biden, who is currently vacationing in the US Virgin Islands, has said he would take time during this hiatus to discuss with family members whether he should seek re-election in 2024.
White House and Democratic Party officials say Biden will almost certainly run again. But will it secure his party’s nomination?
An ideal place to explore that question is Prince George’s County, Maryland, where Biden received 89% support, his highest percentage in the 2020 general election.
Only about a quarter of the 400,000 eligible voters in Prince George’s County typically vote in major elections. Regardless of turnout, the outcome is predictable in the general election for countywide offices: Democrats are all but assured of victory in the largest majority-African-American area in the United States.
The county executive, the 11 council members, the sheriff, the court clerk and the nearly two dozen county legislators who sit in the state general assembly are all Democrats.
“There’s not one Republican that I can think of that’s really viable, that can win within Prince George’s County,” said county Democratic Central Committee Chairman Kent Roberson.
The vice chairman of the Republican Central Committee in Prince George’s County agrees.
“Not in my life. I’m 70 years old right now. So Maryland has become more Democratic, certainly the county, over the years I’ve been here,” Jim Wass told the Voice of America.
That doesn’t mean Republicans in the county should forgo casting their ballots in the general election, Wass said.
“One of these times, it’s going to matter.”
a matter of age
What matters to many voters in both parties is that Biden, already the oldest US president, would be 86 if he were to serve a second term. But in this county, where he topped the polls in 2016, could he beat all the primary challengers in 2024?
“I don’t think I have total blind support,” Roberson told the VOA. “And one, if we look at the [bajos] approval ratings, I don’t think it’s just all Republicans who feel that way, but Democrats as well. And regardless of how I feel about the president and how he’s succeeding, I think we’re also aware that people are concerned that he’s not the one to continue in office for another four years.”
Biden, according to Roberson, did his part in taking the country “through a phase of transition from President [Donald] Trump to where we are now.”
As in other heavily Democratic districts across the country, Prince George’s County Democrats are not monolithic. Democrats individually use different labels: progressive, moderate, liberal, or conservative. In 2016, they banded together to get Biden to deny Trump a second term.
“We’ve all been able to take all of our differences and work together. But you’ll also see where some of those people think leadership is necessary to advance a different candidate. And so, that also plays into how people feel if President Biden should continue in office or not,” Roberson said.
Many possible contenders
Incumbent presidents seeking a second term rarely face serious intraparty challenges, but Biden’s age could set precedent aside.
Asked to weigh in on Democratic presidential hopefuls, Republican Wass said Gavin Newsom, the 55-year-old governor of California, could perhaps appeal to Prince George’s Democrats more than Biden.
“Someone like Gavin Newsom could fit the mindset of the Prince George Democrats,” he said.
As recently as November, Newsom has dismissed speculation that he would challenge Biden.
“He didn’t just beat Trump once, I think he can beat him again,” Newsom told Politico in an interview. “I hope he runs. I’ll support him enthusiastically.”
If Biden does not run for re-election or is forced out of the race due to a health issue, Newsom is seen as a leading candidate, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, 58; Senator Bernie Sanders, 81; and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in his relatively young 40s. All three were contenders in the 2020 Democratic primary.
Wass recalls 1992 when an obscure Arkansas governor named Bill Clinton decided to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, despite political pundits predicting that New York Governor Mario Cuomo would beat Republican George HW Bush. Cuomo’s campaign collapsed before it began, and Clinton defeated Bush in the general election.
“Gavin Newsom must run or he is wasting that opportunity,” Wass said, adding that for the same reason, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should enter the 2024 Republican primary.
“Even with former President Trump seeming to lock in a lot of the money and attention right now, these guys need to run,” Wass said.
Other potential primary challengers to Trump include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and the Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney (who was defeated for re-election this year and is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney).
Also mentioned among moderate Republicans are New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
The only elected president in US history to be denied his party’s nomination for a second term was Democrat Franklin Pierce in 1856. But the concern then was with the president’s policies, not his age.
Pierce favored slavery as the country headed toward civil war over the issue. His party decided to nominate James Buchanan, a former secretary of state who had served as Pierce’s ambassador to the UK and had therefore not been involved in the controversial slavery debate.
Buchanan, no friend of the abolitionists, bested two contenders in the general election from the Whig and Republican parties, despite not actively campaigning, capturing all of the slave states except Maryland.
Historians generally consider Pierce and Buchanan among America’s worst presidents.
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