The exchange didn’t get much attention at the time. But it’s worth remembering as we look ahead to the end of the 2022 election cycle — and, accordingly, the start of the 2024 presidential campaign.
During an interview with “60 Minutes” last month, President Biden acknowledged that his statements that he intends to run again do not necessarily mean he will.
“Look, my intention, as I said to begin with, is that I would run again,” Biden said. “But it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”
On one hand, Biden noted that stating you are running carries with it certain requirements to which he does not want to submit right now. On the other hand, he acknowledges that he hasn’t decided yet. That’s always been the logical extension of “I intend to run” — just as “I’m not running” doesn’t necessarily mean “I won’t run.” But you don’t often see politicians acknowledge that wiggle room so forthrightly.
Maybe that’s Biden being Biden — saying all that he means, in addition to meaning what he says, as he would put it — but we should hardly discount the prospect of an open Democratic primary to go along with an open Republican one.
For now, the big thing to watch is how Democrats perform in the midterms.
Biden turns 80 next month, which is a somewhat arbitrary marker, thanks to our base-10 system. But if he’s 80 years old, unpopular, and his party just came off bruising midterm elections, there will be plenty of pressure on him to step aside. Already, some prominent Democrats are taking the highly unusual step of urging him to do just that.
If the party does better than expected, though, it could help Biden by making the base feel strongly about him again. Biden’s approval ratings have recovered somewhat in recent months, but when his numbers did fall, one aspect was particularly troublesome: the lack of Democrats who said they strongly approved of him. To feel really good about running again, he’ll want to restore the faith of the base. A successful Democratic midterm showing could allow Biden to argue that what Congress got done in recent months shows that the American people appreciate the results he produced.
With the election just over the horizon and Biden’s decision not far behind that, here are our latest quarterly rankings of the 10 potential candidates from among whom the 2024 Democratic presidential nominee is likely to come. As with before, we’re including Biden because it’s not crazy to think someone could challenge him if he did run (even as his potential opponents insist they’ll defer).
Others worth mentioning: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Stacey Abrams, Mitch Landrieu and Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.)
10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: In a recent GQ profile written by my former colleague Wesley Lowery, the liberal New York congresswoman offered some interesting comments on her potential national aspirations. On the one hand, she said, she wants to believe someone like her could run and win. “But at the same time,” she said, “my experience here has given me a front-row seat to how deeply and unconsciously, as well as consciously, so many people in this country hate women. And they hate women of color.” What seems clear is that she could have a significant base of support if she did give it a shot. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. Roy Cooper: There remains little to suggest that the North Carolina governor is seriously preparing for a national campaign. To the extent he is, he’s not exactly raising his profile. He’s the biggest electability-first candidate in the field — a guy who won twice even as Donald Trump was carrying his state. But as we’ll get to, he could soon have some real competition for that mantle. (Previous ranking: 9)
8. Elizabeth Warren: Complicating matters for Warren is that she’s also up for reelection to the Senate in 2024. We’ve seen candidates try to run for president and then revert to seeking their day job if it doesn’t work out. But given how her last presidential campaign went, she might not be raring to spend two full years campaigning. (Previous ranking: 5)
7. Bernie Sanders: Sanders jumps ahead of Warren, as he continues to leave open the possibility of running again — despite once begging off. The senator just turned 81. But he recently suggested that the age factor shouldn’t be weighted too heavily. “Obviously you want people who are competent, capable, have the energy — I mean, my God, to be president of the United States requires an enormous amount of energy,” he told CBS News. “But I would say, first of all, take a look at what people stand for. And we don’t do that enough.” (Previous ranking: 6)
6. Amy Klobuchar: Klobuchar, like Warren, has a Senate reelection campaign to consider in 2024, and she said recently that she’ll run in that race. While Minnesota can be a competitive state, Klobuchar is very strong back home and could consider trying for both. (Previous ranking: 4)
5. Gavin Newsom: The California governor gave an unequivocal answer last month when asked about running in 2024. “Not happening, no, no, not at all,” he said. “I’ve said it in French, Italian. I don’t know German. I mean, I cannot say it enough. But thank you. It’s humbling. It is sweet. It’s a nice thing to be asked. I mean it, and I never trust politicians, so I get why you keep asking.” Indeed, we don’t believe him — not completely. His efforts to mix it up with Republican governors including Florida’s Ron DeSantis in recent months point in quite a different direction. And many people around him seem convinced that he’s in if Biden isn’t. (Previous ranking: 7)
4. Gretchen Whitmer: The biggest gainer on our list is the Michigan governor, who could be one of the big winners of the 2022 campaign — just as Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is trying to use his 2021 win as a springboard. She’s looking like a strong favorite to win reelection in one of the country’s preeminent swing states, and possibly by a solid margin. (Some recent polls have her up double digits.) Part of that would owe to her opponent, Tudor Dixon (R), not being a great candidate. But often, the polls show a solid majority of Michiganders approve of Whitmer’s job performance. If she does win by a substantial margin, you can bet there’ll be a push to get her on the national ticket. (Previous ranking: 8)
3. Kamala D. Harris: Black voters were key to Biden’s win in the 2020 primaries. But what about a race without him? The vice president would seem to have the inside track. But, unfortunately, we didn’t get to see how she’d perform in states with significant Black populations, because she didn’t even make it to Iowa. What we do know: A recent Fox News poll showed 65 percent of Black voters approved of her job performance as vice president. But as with Biden, it’s not strong support: Just 25 percent approved strongly. (Previous ranking: 3)
2. Pete Buttigieg: The transportation secretary still leads Harris as the top Biden alternative on our list, because he’s better able to drive a message and ran a better 2020 campaign. He’s also competitive with her in the polls, despite her larger platform. And a poll conducted shortly after our last rankings even showed him virtually tied with Biden atop the race in New Hampshire — although nobody in the poll hit even 20 percent. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. President Biden: Biden still suffers from the fact that a strong majority of Democrats simply don’t want him to be their nominee again, which is not normal for an incumbent president. There is some evidence of his recovering a bit on these kinds of measures — just as his overall approval has recovered somewhat — but still not in a way that suggests he’d be a shoo-in if he did run and faced a primary. Nor does it help to have prominent Democrats including Senate candidate Tim Ryan, now a congressman from Ohio, very publicly saying Biden shouldn’t run again. Nevertheless, he is an incumbent president who could have the field to himself, and without a would-be usurper waiting in the wings (like DeSantis in the GOP field), he retains the top spot. (Previous ranking: 1)