President Joe Biden, currently vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has said he would take time over the holidays to discuss with family members whether he should seek re-election in 2024.
White House and Democratic Party officials say it is almost certain Biden will run again. But will he 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 one-fourth of the 400,000 eligible voters in Prince George’s County usually cast ballots in major elections. Regardless of the turnout, the outcome is predictable in general elections for countywide offices — Democrats are almost assured victory in the largest African American-majority county in the United States.
The county executive, the 11 members of the county council, the sheriff, the clerk of the court and the nearly two dozen lawmakers from the county holding office in the state general assembly are all Democrats.
“There is no Republican I can think of that actually is viable, that would be able to win within Prince George’s County,” county Democratic Central Committee chair Kent Roberson said.
The Republican Central Committee vice chair in Prince George’s County agrees.
“Not in my lifetime. I’m 70 years old right now. So, Maryland has become more Democrat-leaning — certainly the county has — over the years that I’ve been here,” Jim Wass told VOA.
That does not mean Republicans in the county should give up casting ballots in general elections, said Wass.
“One of these times, it’s going to matter.”
An issue of age
What matters for many voters of both parties is that Biden, already the oldest U.S. president, would be 86 years old if he were to finish a second term. But in this county where he topped the polls in 2016, would he be able to vanquish all primary election challengers in 2024?
“I don’t believe he has blind total support,” Roberson told VOA. “And one, if we look at the [low] approval ratings, I don’t think that’s just all Republicans who feel that way, but it is Democrats, as well. And regardless of how I feel about the president and how he is succeeding, I think that we’re also aware that individuals are concerned that he might not be the one to continue in office for another four years.”
Biden, according to Roberson, did his part by bringing the country “through a transition stage 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 wear different labels: progressive, moderate, liberal or conservative. In 2016, they came together for Biden to deny Trump a second term.
“We all have been able to take all of our differences and work together. But you’ll also see where some of those individuals think that leadership is needed to move forward in a different candidate. And so, that also sways how individuals feel whether 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 put precedent aside.
Asked to assess Democratic presidential hopefuls, Republican Wass said Gavin Newsom, the 55-year-old governor of California, perhaps could appeal to Prince George’s Democrats more than Biden.
“Somebody like Gavin Newsom might fit the mentality of Prince George’s Democrats,” he said.
As recently as November, Newsom has dismissed speculation he would challenge Biden.
“He not only beat Trump once, I think he can beat him again,” Newsom told Politico in an interview. “I hope he runs. I’ll enthusiastically support him.”
If Biden does not run for reelection or is forced out of contention by a health issue, Newsom is seen as a leading candidate, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is 58; Senator Bernie Sanders, 81; and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, a relatively youthful 40. All three were contenders in the 2020 Democratic primaries.
Wass recalls 1992 when an obscure governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton decided to run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, despite political pundits predicting New York Governor Mario Cuomo was the one to beat incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush. Cuomo’s campaign collapsed before it began, and Clinton defeated Bush in the general election.
“Gavin Newsom must run or he’s wasting that opportunity,” said Wass, adding that for the same reason, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should enter the Republican primary contests in 2024.
“Even with former President Trump appearing to lock up a lot of the money and attention right now, these guys must run,” Wass said.
Other possible primary challengers to Trump include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney (who was defeated for reelection this year and is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney). Also mentioned among moderate Republicans are New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
The only elected president in American history to be denied his party’s nomination for a second term was Democrat Franklin Pierce in 1856. But the concern then was the president’s policies, not his age.
The hard-drinking Pierce favored enslavement as the country headed toward civil war over the issue. His party decided to instead nominate James Buchanan, a former secretary of state who had served as Pierce’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and thus had not been involved in the contentious slavery debate.
Buchanan, who was himself no friend to the abolitionists, bested two contenders in the general election from the Whig and Republican parties, despite not actively campaigning, capturing every slave state except Maryland.
Historians generally consider Pierce and Buchanan among America’s worst presidents.