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By Martin Liptrot

By Martin Liptrot

A week in America | 10 November 2023

This time next year, America will have a new President. Or the old one back. Or the old one it currently has will still be there. This week Martin looks at the dilemma facing US political parties and voters...

The Democrats have just won huge elections in key swing states, but it spells bad news for President Biden.

On Tuesday night, Democrats completed a number of unexpected victories in states they will have to win to secure control of the White House in November 2024’s Presidential Election.

In Kentucky, the sitting Governor defeated a shouty Republican opponent, in Ohio two ballot measures were won by liberal campaigners, and in Virginia the Democrats retained the State Senate and took control of the House away from the Republicans.

The issue central to all these elections was abortion rights – either votes to protect and enshrine reproductive rights or to punish Republicans who had voted to restrict them.

But the polling which goes alongside all modern elections also revealed that despite broad positive numbers for issues like climate change measures and abortion rights, support for President Biden was ebbing away,

The polling shows that his opinion ratings are low, his popularity, even with Democrats, has shrunk from the 2020 election where he was widely viewed as the best candidate to unite voters looking to get rid of President Trump. And despite there only being a few years difference in age, Biden is seen by as many as two-thirds of all voters as not being capable of a second term as Commander in Chief, and Democratic strategists are looking at other alternatives.

The only sitting Democrat President to fail to be re-elected was Jimmy Carter, who’s poll ratings fell quickly among concerns about the familiar sounding issues of foreign policy, inflation, and the economy. Carter was also up against Ronald Reagan who was promising ‘a New Morning in America’ – a message which resonated across many key voter demographics.

If Biden can be persuaded not to run – a tough task in itself, Democrat grandees would have to be sure their choice of replacement would be victorious.

There are five key candidates being considered. VP Kamala Harris would of course be top of any list. She is the first South Asian and African American female to run on a presidential ticket, but her approval ratings are no better, sometimes lower, than those of her boss, especially in the key midwestern swing states.

Other than being 20 years his junior, she doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of fresh ideas or new thinking. Her best hope of being selected is to be nominated by Biden in a coronation rather than a contested primary.

Another name frequently raised is California Governor Gavin Newsom. Newsom drew the ire of some Democrats last year when he bought lots of TV airtime to go after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who at the time looked like he was heading to be the Republican’s chosen candidate for 2024.

As well as boosting his own national profile, he demanded Democrats go on the offensive, change their narrative and ‘stop being so damn defensive’ – words widely seen as a criticism of the Biden administration. Popular with the progressive left in the party, it is unclear if this former Mayor of San Francisco would resonate with swing voters away from California politics.

Pete Buttigieg, currently the Transport Secretary, is another one some feel might contest the nomination. Buttigieg’s star was rising fast 4 years ago due to his good looks and smooth media and TV appearances, but he seems to have lost some of that gloss following a few poorly timed announcements and his handling of a deadly rail accident in Ohio. He is also unpopular with communities of colour, religious voters and those opposed to gay marriage.

A name many Brits may be unfamiliar with is Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan. She won the gubernatorial contest in a state which was heavily leaning towards Trump and, after being the target of a far-right kidnap plot, has seen a sympathetic swell in support.

She has a reputation as a ‘no-nonsense’ practical politician – making ‘Fix The Damn Roads’ an election battle cry. She made women’s reproductive rights a mainstay of her campaign efforts, endearing her to the mainstream of the Democrat Party, and used her position as an advocate for abortion rights to trounce her Republican opponent.

Speculation about an eventual White House bid by Whitmer has been building steadily. “Why Not Whitmer?” was the headline in the left-of-centre political magazine – Atlantic – earlier this year.

And, of course, there has to be an outlier in the field too.

That berth out on the far left is occupied by New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – leader of ‘The Squad’ a kind of US version of Momentum, loyal to Bernie Sanders – that is until the former darling of the left this week put his support behind Israel in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

Ocasio-Cortez, know by her initials AOC, is the youngest in the field – in fact she will only by eligible to run for President by four weeks – the minimum age for the top job is 35.

She is a dilemma for Democrats. Her outspokenness on a range of issues resonates with younger voters and those not politically aligned, but she is seen as a firebrand for Socialism, a no-no for many voters, especially older electors outside of the big cities in typically Conservative states.

There is an alternative view from the White House.

Those close to Biden say that these election results are proof that the polls don’t reflect what people do in the privacy of the ballot box,

But for many big figures in the Democrat ranks, the New York Times poll a few weeks ago which put Biden 10 points or more behind Trump in key states including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, Nevada and Arizona – suggests these recent wins won’t translate to votes for Biden ‘24.

Even those who worked with Biden when he was running mate for President Obama are expressing their concerns.

“If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in his best interest or the country’s?” David Axelrod, Obama’s senior strategist told his millions of Twitter or X followers.

Equally worryingly, the NYT poll revealed Black voters had moved towards Trump in bigger numbers than previously seen.

One of Biden’s strengths in 2020 was his ability to attract votes from White working-class communities, unionized labour, and Black communities in states where Trump’s angry voter numbers were growing. If he is now losing that trust, it further undermines his main campaign message – “I’ve beaten Trump before, I can do it again.”

And that brings us to the main feature event. Trump.

If he wasn’t running, the Democrats would be much more willing to boot Joe aside and install a shiny new candidate. But throwing a divisive or untried candidate into the biggest election campaign on Earth against an angry, well-funded and unpredictable former President has no appeal.

Democrat strategists are, I’m sure, following proceedings in various court houses around the country as Trump answers allegations of crimes and misdemeanours on a scale no previous President ever has or is likely to. They will be looking closely at private and public polling which shows the reaction of voters to Trumps legal woes.

Interestingly, the NYT polling saw the large number of voters who said they trusted Trump over Biden as President fall away dramatically if he was to be convicted of any charge.

Politics will, unfortunately, enter the court room over the coming months.

Biden wants a badly wounded Trump – convicted of lying or fiddling his tax returns – but not badly wounded enough for the GOP to boot him from being the GOP candidate.

Democrat strategists want Trump off the Republican ticket so they can edge Biden off theirs and find a candidate who would pummel any of the other names currently being suggested as Trump’s replacement.

And Americans want them both gone.

Neither expected candidate inspires, especially with the crucial middle 60% who aren’t aligned one way or the other.

Already two alternative party candidates have indicated they will be running – one of whom, Robert Kennedy Jr. – a wild conspiracy theorist – will take away a swathe of votes from any democrat candidate with his family name recognition and the continued love for his uncle within the Irish American community and others.

To me, it seems strange that there is a minimum age to be President but no maximum.

US tax law says you must start to take mandatory pension withdrawals at 72 years of age – effectively saying, like it or not, you become a pensioner at that age.

Surely that’s the point to say to stumbling, bumbling Joe and legally-challenged Donald – “Thanks – but no thanks’.

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Martin Liptrot

Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.

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