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Joe Biden’s first 2024 foe: His enthusiasm problem with Democratic voters

Democrats are Old Mother Hubbard, and only Joe’s in the cupboard

President Joe Biden speaks with the media in the White House Rose Garden on April 24.
President Joe Biden speaks with the media in the White House Rose Garden on April 24. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

He’s running. He has a strong chance to be reelected. Yet, Democratic voters want another name — any other name, really — atop the Democratic side of the ballot.

If President Joe Biden were a pitcher entering the game in front of his home crowd, the collective groan from the friendly fans would be deafening.

Biden announced this week he will seek a second term — but not even he seems all that excited about it. Hours after his campaign released a three-minute video that featured clues about his 2024 messaging, Biden spoke at length to a group of labor union officials — but never mentioned his final campaign for the presidency.

Voters are equally meh about Biden’s reelection bid, creating a big challenge for the 80-year-old president. And he knows it.

“They’re going to see a race, and they’re going to judge whether or not I have it or I don’t have it. I respect them taking a hard look at it,” the president replied Wednesday, referring to voters, when asked during a news conference about his age and dismal poll numbers.

He added that other recent first-term presidents have had sub-50 percent approval ratings when they launched their reelection bids, saying: “There’s nothing new about that. You’re making it sound like ‘Biden is really underwater.’”

Still, he faces an enthusiasm problem among Democratic voters, including several key voting blocs he will need, in big numbers in key battleground states, if he hopes to “finish the job,” as he put it in a Tuesday campaign launch video.

For instance, an NBC News poll released this week showed 70 percent of respondents don’t want him to run again. (The same survey found 60 percent of voters feel the same about the 74-year-old Trump and his growing list of legal problems.)

Democratic lawmakers are rallying to Biden’s side, making clear they want him to run on their shared policy record.

“He has a great record, not a good record, to run on. What you have seen him get done in a very divided Congress and divided opinions in the country on health care, on climate, on public safety, you name it, his record is incredible,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said Wednesday.

“And he’s reestablished America’s global leadership,” Cardin added. “So he has a great record. And I think that record will be the selling point for his reelection.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., endorsed Biden in a Tuesday television interview after tweeting this: “750,000 new manufacturing jobs, two record-breaking yrs of job creation, & record low unemployment. I am supporting @JoeBiden for President in 2024 so we can continue the work of building our working and middle class.”

But Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a former GOP leadership member, summed up Republican lawmakers’ views by saying: “I think the president has a terrible record, and that’s why you see so many people say they don’t want him to run again — just look at the polling.”

Notably, Biden flicked at worries that many Democratic voters are not all that fired up about a possible second term.

“This is not a time to be complacent. That’s why I’m running for reelection,” he says in the video. “Because I know America. I know we’re good and decent people. I know we’re still a country that believes in honesty, respect and treating each other with dignity. That we’re a nation where we give hate no safe harbor.”

That is a message that can make Biden seem a bit out of touch, with both parties taking public shot after shot at each other, and social media and cable news vitriol drowning out just about everything else. But it’s also a message that in 2020 helped him defeat Trump. And it’s vintage Optimistic Biden.

But Team Biden is not showing signs of worry about a big turnout on Nov. 5, 2024. And the short campaign video released Tuesday morning offers clues why, including its lead-in images from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot — an immediate shot across Trump’s bow and a reminder to voters of his role in that violent and unprecedented day.

The rollout video makes clear Biden will make his legislative record part of his sales pitch. But it portends other issues also will be featured — especially Trump.

‘I know him well’

Biden made clear that candidate Trump — who has pulled away from his closest possible GOP primary foe, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in most polls since being charged in New York City with 34 felony counts of business fraud — was a factor in his decision to run one last time.

“I know him well. And the danger he poses to our democracy,” Biden said Tuesday, a day after his campaign launch video began with footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. He has noted publicly how Trump that day urged his revved-up loyalists to march to the legislative building and “fight like hell.”

But, notably, Biden said he would have run even if Trump had opted out in 2024. Why?

“Look,” he said, “there’s more to do to finish the job.”

What is clear is that Biden believes defeating Trump, likely ending the 45th president’s political career as a candidate, is part of that goal.

Biden appeared more optimistic than confident on Tuesday. Ironically, perhaps the most confident outlook from inside Biden World, so far, has came from a Biden aide who listed the president’s accomplishments while noting she needed to follow the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that prohibits all executive branch employees other than the president and vice president from taking part in inherently political activities.

“So there is a whole host of accomplishments that this president has been able to do and that … Republicans in Congress have not. They literally have not been able to get things done,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.

“We understand what the polls are saying. I will say this: In 2020, let’s not forget, more Americans voted for this president than any other president in history,” Jean-Pierre added, referring to the 81.2 million votes her boss netted while defeating Trump.

‘Stop that red wave’

Team Biden also sees little shift among voters on abortion and the economy, as well as Democrats’ deep distaste for Trump, as evidence Biden has more than a decent shot in 2024.

“And let’s not forget, in 2022, the midterms election, against all odds, right? Against everything that we were being told … this president had one of the most successful midterm elections for a Democratic president in 60 years,” she said of Democrats keeping House Republicans to a five-seat majority and retaining Senate control. “And we were able to stop that red wave — that did not happen.”

The president is betting his last campaign on history and polling trends — and Trump’s legal woes. That’s not an unreasonable bet to make 557 days (as of Friday) from Election Day.

While a slew of polls in recent months have shown majorities of voters in both parties oppose both Biden and Trump running in 2024, an Economist-YouGov survey released Wednesday showed Democratic voters warming to Biden’s bid.

“There has been some increase this week in the share of Democrats saying they want Joe Biden to run for president again in 2024: In our latest survey, 53 percent say they want him to run, 10 percentage points higher than the share who said so last week (43 percent),” YouGov analysts wrote in a summary of the poll. “Current Democratic support for a Biden candidacy is still lower, however, than the 62 percent of Republicans who want Donald Trump to run in 2024.”

Democrats have never seriously considered another among their ranks could defeat the resilient Teflon Donald. To paraphrase the angry Cleveland Indians fan “Johnny” (Randy Quaid) from the (underrated) 1994 movie Major League II, Democrats are Old Mother Hubbard, and only Joe’s in the cupboard.

In the baseball flick’s dramatic final scene, Indians star pitcher Ricky Vaughn — transformed back into his hard-throwing “Wild Thing” persona — gets the final out. But a big difference is “Wild Thing” needed only one out, pitching from the bullpen, striking out Chicago White Sox slugger Jack Parkman for the save.

Biden must endure the nine-inning crucible that is a presidential campaign — all while running the country and free world amid a daily barrage of attacks from Trump and his surrogates.

Play ball!

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-based CQ Senate newsletter.

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