Joe Biden's 2024 enthusiasm gap

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The nation’s oldest serving president is seeking a reelection bid that will be a grueling, 19-month test of whether he can convince Americans he deserves to hold the job well into his 80s.

Joe Biden kicked things off today with a three-minute video that featured clips from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building juxtaposed against images of peaceful gatherings outside of the Supreme Court protesting the fall of Roe v. Wade.

He concluded with the tagline: “Let’s finish the job.”

There’s an almost obsessive preoccupation with Biden’s age. And in his video, Biden sought to portray himself as an ageless champion who will “battle for the soul of America” by taking on conservatives who are banning books, making it more difficult to vote and meddling in women’s health care decisions.

This campaign, though, will be far different than the socially distanced one he successfully navigated in 2020 with few public appearances during the height of the pandemic.

There’s a perceived dearth of enthusiasm for his campaign, with many Democratic activists resigned to the fact Biden is their best chance to stop Republicans from reclaiming the presidency. And the reality for Biden is many activists — natural surrogates to bolster his message — are growing weary. Many see themselves as loyal foot soldiers in the fight against culture war battles being waged in conservative legislatures which are pushing for stricter laws targeting abortion and voting.

Many don’t view Biden himself as a galvanizing force in 2024.

“It’s not going to be him energizing the base,” Cliff Albright, executive director of Black Voters Matter Fund, told The Recast newsletter with a hint of a chuckle.

“It’s obviously going to have to be surrogates to do the energizing part, but he’s got some achievements, including some that influence Black folks directly that he can craft a message around.”

Albright says the relaunch video was strong and that he was glad to see Biden lean so heavily into voting rights, an issue he says he is key for Black voters — even though Democrats were unsuccessful in enacting federal protections when the party held a governing trifecta.

“Sometimes all Black folks want to see is, ‘We want to see you fight,’” Albright says. “We’re not naive. We’re used to being in fights we know we can’t win because we don’t have the votes … but we want people to fight for us.”

Many Democratic strategists and activists give the Biden administration high marks for stabilizing the economy following the pandemic shutdowns, passing bipartisan infrastructure legislation and nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Those, they say, are achievements Biden should be touting.

They also hope the Biden administration can craft a coherent campaign message, one that showcases his achievements but also serves as a clarion call for the battles ahead that still require a united front of elected officials and activists to achieve. Keeping the activist class engaged and energized is key, but there’s also a hard truth being spoken amongst grassroots organizers.

“I think what you’re seeing is that we’re burnt out,” says longtime Democratic political strategist and activist Nina Smith, who worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign last cycle.

“There are a lot of folks right now that are just tired and they’ve stepped away. Folks that I worked alongside with in 2020 have stepped away and they are not as engaged anymore.”

“That’s the real danger here,” she adds.

Activists note that if the Biden campaign invests in and engages community organizers early on, this early fatigue can be overcome.

Many also say that Biden should rely on a new class of elected officials, including freshman Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) and Tennessee state Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, to help elevate his campaign to a weary progressive base.

The “two Justins” as they are sometimes referred to, are both young Black men who were each expelled from the GOP-led Tennessee Legislature, before being reinstated the following week.

Together with state Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white and survived an expulsion vote, they form the “Tennessee Three.” On Monday, they met with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House to push the administration to declare gun violence a public health emergency.

Still, activists on the left may be looking past Biden, who will be 82 years old should he be sworn in for another term. Instead, they say, they are inspired by the woman who is leading his campaign: Julie Chávez Rodríguez. She’s a senior White House adviser and the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, famed labor leader and Chicano icon.

Not everyone agrees it’s enough.

“That alone is not going to be something that is going to [bring] Latino voters out for President Biden,” says Mayra López-Zuniga, a political strategist with the progressive group Mijente. “I think we need a little bit more substance.”

As she sees it, many Latino voters don’t feel their lives have changed for the better during the Biden administration. Huge wage gaps persist between Latinas and non-Hispanic men. By one measure from the Justice for Women report, Latinas make 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes.

Then there’s immigration, which was not mentioned in the president’s campaign video relaunch and is seen as a potential liability for Biden heading into 2024.

“The president hasn’t been able to deliver on immigration, no asylum reform, DACA is still up in the air,” López-Zuniga tells The Recast. “So I don’t know, at this point, that there’s a huge energy for what 2024 is going to look like.”

While Biden and his advisors seek to project the image of a spry commander in chief, questions about his vitality will hover over his reelection prospects — as are concerns that voters just aren’t that into him. The latest datapoint underscoring that came in an NBC News poll released Sunday.

It found a whopping 70 percent of Americans say Biden should not run — including 51 percent of Democrats. That is compared to just 26 percent who said he should run. Of those who said he shouldn’t run, a combined 69 percent cited his age as a reason.

Still: A lot can happen in a campaign over the course of 18 months. If anyone knows this, it’s Biden himself.

This article first appeared in an edition of The Recast newsletter.