(NEW YORK) — President Joe Biden launched his reelection campaign Tuesday, capping off months of speculation over his electoral future and laying the groundwork for a potential rematch with former President Donald Trump.
Biden comes into the race with the benefits of incumbency, a string of accomplishments while Democrats controlled Congress and the virtual guarantee of clinching his party’s nomination over two long shot challengers. But he also faces tepid approval ratings, widespread apathy among Democratic voters and a campaign that will be very different from 2020, which was largely virtual amid the spread of COVID-19.
Democrats are bullish on Biden’s chances, touting him as a powerful voice against a GOP that is anticipated to either nominate Trump or another politician aligned with his brand of politics, which Biden has sought to label “MAGA” extremism as he highlights his support for abortion access, domestic manufacturing and other issues.
At the same time, Republicans are buoyed by polling showing the president facing headwinds, including from his own party — even though Trump’s approval ratings are also underwater — as well as what they call a long list of looming problems like inflation, immigration, crime and economic uncertainty.
Here are five takeaways as Biden’s reelection bid gets underway.
Biden has primary challengers, but don’t expect 2020-style race
As of now, Biden technically has two primary challengers — author Marianne Williamson, who also ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020, and lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of the famed political family who is notorious for his anti-vaccine stances.
But both Williamson and Kennedy’s paths are expected to be choked off due to low interest from Democratic voters and a Democratic National Committee (DNC) that is in lockstep behind the president.
The DNC intends to empty its war chest to keep Biden in the White House and passed a resolution during its February winter meeting expressing its “full and complete support” for Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. That means the party won’t be hosting primary debates for Williamson and Kennedy to take shots at Biden and, overall, the two candidates will lack institutional support.
While some have chafed at this — and Williamson called it out on social media — it is in keeping with how past incumbent presidents have campaigned, including Trump in 2020, despite others technically seeking the GOP nomination against him then.
“Biden beat Trump because of what he was going to do ,and will now beat him again by talking about what he has done and how he will finish the job. So, while Republicans continue to tear each other apart in a blood sacrifice to MAGA extremists, he can just keep doing his job and doesn’t really need to hit the campaign trail hard until the general,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.
“While the announcement means that fundraising and building the campaign infrastructure begins, the President and Vice President can continue to focus on their day jobs at least until the end of the year,” Karen Finney, a former DNC official with ties to the White House, added in a text message to ABC News.
Still, Republicans are eager for Biden to eventually hit the campaign trail, even if he isn’t likely to quickly set up events. They argue that he largely got a pass during 2020 because of the pandemic, something Trump often highlights.
“He can’t hide in the basement,” said GOP pollster Robert Blizzard.
Biden’s rollout is normal
Biden’s announcement, made in a video released on social media on Tuesday morning, comes more than a year and a half before the 2024 general election, but it echoes past announcements by incumbent presidents other than Trump.
Barack Obama announced his 2012 reelection on April 4, 2011, and George W. Bush announced his 2004 reelection campaign on May 16, 2003.
Trump marked an aberration from that pattern, launching his 2020 reelection campaign on his first day in office in 2017.
“This is how presidents usually run for reelection, especially when they have a really good record of accomplishments to run on,” Vale said.
Dem enthusiasm could be a problem: Will they rally?
Polling has repeatedly suggested Biden faces a challenge in winning majority approval overall and even from Democrats.
Biden’s approval rating sat at just 34% in an ABC News/Ipsos poll released earlier this month, and multiple surveys have suggested that a majority of Democratic voters would rather see someone else be the party’s presidential nominee next year.
Voters have also repeatedly expressed concerns over Biden’s age — at 80, he is already the oldest president in U.S. history, and he would be 86 at the end of a second term.
“Yes, they’d rather he be younger. But they’re all for him,” former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday of Democratic voters. “There’s a little, shall we say, sidebar stuff. But by and large, people understand there’s so much at stake in this election that it’s really important for us to go full strength, full strength Joe Biden.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., echoed that later Tuesday, saying he had “no doubts” about the president’s competence. “Next November … it’s going to be a pretty clear choice,” he said.
Other lawmakers also emphasized Biden’s legislative work with the two-year Democratic majority in Congress during his first term.
Democrats have sought to tamp down on concerns over Biden’s poll numbers, noting that when asked who they’d vote for in matchups with people like Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Democratic voters largely come home.
“The data point we should be focused on is not hypotheticals about who they want to run but who they say they are voting for, and Democrats have had unwavering support for President Biden in every head-to-head,” said Democratic pollster Molly Murphy.
High-profile Democrats have already started falling in line behind Biden, with Obama, his old boss, tweeting that Biden has “delivered for the American people — and he’ll continue to do so once he’s re-elected.” Likewise, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran against Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2020, this time quickly endorsed him for 2024.
Not every Democratic figure approves of the early unity behind Biden, however. Progressive DNC member Nina Turner tweeted that the committee “refusing to hold a single primary debate is undemocratic and robs the voters of choice.”
Biden to continue focus on “MAGA extremists”
In the lead up to his campaign launch, Biden railed against “MAGA extremists” — a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan — and his Tuesday video suggests that he’ll keep up that strategy.
“Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take on those bedrock freedoms, cutting Social Security that you paid for your entire life while cutting taxes for the very wealthy, dictating what healthcare decisions women can make, banning books and telling people who they can love, all while making it more for you to be able to vote,” Biden said in his announcement.
The video did not mention Trump by name, though the line coincided with images of Trump, DeSantis and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., seemingly allowing Biden to tie whomever the 2024 GOP nominee is to Trump even if the former president doesn’t win the primary.
“As we’ve seen in polling, they are speaking to and taking action to address the very real concerns Americans continue to have about threats to our democracy and basic freedoms in this moment of generational change,” Finney argued.
Republicans, meanwhile, heralded Biden’s official entry into the 2024 race, boasting that his low approval ratings will clear a path to retake the White House next year.
Trump released an over four-minute video lambasting Biden’s record on the economy, foreign policy, immigration and more, saying it would be Democrats’ “worst nightmare” should the two debate and that “there has never been a greater contrast between two successive administrations in all of American history.”
When asked about Biden’s announcement, GOP pollster John McLaughlin, who does work for Trump’s campaign, said, “Wish the election were tomorrow.”
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