It is not normal. We’ve seen evidence that Democrats are unconvinced of Biden’s nomination for a second term, including a November poll showing a majority of Democrats didn’t want him running again. But plenty of Republicans are saying the same about a 2024 Donald Trump repeat – yet he’s the clear favorite when you pit him against real potential opponents.
Democrats need to decide what this means for them. Certainly, there is an argument to be made that the best way forward is to choose a different candidate. But if Biden intends to run again, do you allow a competitive primary that could put the choice in the hands of voters — and risk hurting the incumbent, ala Jimmy Carter versus Ted Kennedy in 1980? Are you subtly suggesting to Biden that maybe it would be better to pass the torch, and hope it works? Or do you just hope things get better with his presidency?
These very important questions will likely have to wait for Democrats to see how the 2022 election plays out. But in the meantime, we’ve seen the kind of jockey you might expect in such a scenario. Biden hasn’t even been fully explicit that he will run again, which would seem to give the green light to others preparing for the event he doesn’t.
With all of this in mind, we are changing our approach to our quarterly presidential rankings. In previous installments, we’ve excluded Biden from the list, suggesting we’d only likely get a real primary if he didn’t run. But increasingly we have to consider the possibility that, if he does show up, he won’t have the pitch all to himself – and that he might not be the most likely candidate, all things considered.
Below are our latest rankings.
Others worth mentioning: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Stacey Abrams, Mitch Landrieu, representing Ro Khanna (Calif.)
10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: The most obvious path for the 32-year-old congresswoman would be to bide her time for the right opportunity to run for the Senate. She passed a primary against Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) this year, but she would have a good shot against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (DN.Y.) in 2024. Or she could go same top office, which she voted 6% for in that YouGov poll. She doesn’t appear to be taking the kind of action others on this list have, but she would have a built-in base, and the progressive path will be much more open this time around, as Sanders has said he’s most likely out. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. Gavin Newsom: Some California political observers have noticed that the governor seems to weigh in more often in recent national political debates. “It’s painfully obvious that Newsom wants to run for president one day,” SFGate’s Eric Ting wrote this week. Exactly how this would happen is less obvious. Newsom won a big victory in a much-watched recall vote last year, but how he would relate to voters outside the Golden State is a big question. Newsom practically exudes “West Coast liberal,” though he’s probably a bit more moderate than some people think. (Previous ranking: 7)
8. Cory Booker: The New Jersey senator was one of the most prominent faces in the Democrats’ effort to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, delivering some heartfelt lines about the significance of the occasion. His 2020 campaign falls far short of capitalizing on the promise of his early political career, but Booker is just 52 and could still have another act on the national stage. (Previous ranking: 6)
7. Sherrod Brown: Perhaps the biggest shock of the early 2020 Democratic primary cycle was when the senator from Ohio died unexpectedly. That was partly because he decided he wasn’t as invested in running as other Democrats, and that may not have changed in 2024. But with Sanders out, he there might be more space for his populist style of politics. . And you can bet many establishment Democrats would put Brown high on their list. Big deal: He’s running for re-election in 2024, and he may not be able to fall back on his re-election bid in red-leaning Ohio. (Previous ranking: n/a)
6.Roy Cooper: He is perhaps the main competitor you hear the least about. That’s partly because he’s governor, but partly because of Cooper’s style. If this is a baby-just-win-win type election and the Democrats want a Biden-style nominee (but not Biden himself), North Carolina ticks a lot of boxes. He is also, like Brown, a repeat winner in a tough state that Democrats would like to put on the map. (Previous ranking: 5)
5. Amy Klobuchar: The Minnesota senator would seem to benefit from a race without Biden, just as some of these others would benefit from a race without Sanders. But how much? Her 2020 high was 20% in New Hampshire, and she underperformed in Iowa long before Biden really kicked into high gear. (Previous ranking: 4)
4. Elizabeth Warren: The Sanders camp has suggested that Biden will face a progressive challenger in 2024. But who exactly would this wing of the party line up behind? Politico reported recently that top Sanders aides have gotten involved in setting the pitch for 2024 — but pushing for Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) to run rather than building Warren. Sanders and Warren have often been allies in the Senate, but their 2020 presidential campaigns have gotten pretty ugly with each other. The Massachusetts senator also has a 2024 re-election bid, which she said she would pursue. (Previous ranking: 3)
3. Kamala D. Harris: We’re dropping Harris down a notch this time. Being vice president is certainly a good launch pad, but it’s not at all clear that Harris made good use of it. Her numbers are similar to Biden’s, and she has done little to change perceptions that have hurt her 2020 campaign, including her ability to get a message across. There’s also no way she’s running against Biden if he runs (while others might have seen some wiggle room on that). On the plus side, Biden has pledged that she will be his running mate again. (Previous ranking: 1)
2. Pete Buttigieg: The Secretary of Transportation is ahead of Harris, but without much conviction on our part. He had a good campaign in 2020 – we will repeat that he was very close to winning the first two contests – and would enter 2024 with more clout as Cabinet Secretary. Above all, we would expect a race without Biden to be one of the most open contests in recent memory. Insofar as people don’t want Biden or Harris, he’s next in terms of sheer plausibility. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. President Biden: Having said all of the above, things are often the bleakest for a president in a midterm election year. And Biden has to deal with both a pandemic and inflation. If these factors diminish in the coming months, and after the mid-terms of 2022? The picture could be noticeably different. If the Republicans gain some control over Congress, as seems likely, it could even help Biden politically, as he will have something to run against (even outside of Donald Trump). But mostly, we just wonder if we’ll see him try to become the first-ever octogenarian candidate for president.