With help from Eli Okun, Garrett Ross and Bethany Irvine
If you haven’t heard, the Democratic Party is full of anxious people right now. They’re worried about swing-state polls showing JOE BIDEN losing to DONALD TRUMP. They’re worried about voters panning “Bidenomics” even as the economy seems to be improving.
But the No. 1 worry at this moment is about the one thing he and his team can’t change: his advanced age.
The president turns 81 tomorrow. This morning, a pair of stories in POLITICO and WaPo explore how Biden’s campaign is under growing pressure from supporters to fashion a strategy for dealing with perhaps his greatest vulnerability in 2024.
Elena Schneider, Holly Otterbein and Jonathan Lemire open with a scene from a fundraising retreat where one donor asked the campaign how they should deal with the growing concerns about his age they keep hearing. QUENTINFULKS, the principal deputy campaign manager, essentially told them Biden isn’t getting younger but they should turn the focus to Biden’s accomplishments.
“Even those in Biden’s inner circle, including family members, worry about the optics of age. Those close allies believe that Biden is mentally up for the job, but some acknowledge that the president can at times appear frail, according to two people involved in the conversations but not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.
“One example: As noted on his recent physical, Biden’s gait has stiffened following foot fractures he suffered playing with his dog in late 2020. People close to the president have discussed having him walk shorter distances while on camera. They’ve also advocated, at times, trading in formal shoes for more comfortable ones — both to make his stride seem less stiff, but also to reduce the risk of falls.”
RONKLAIN, Biden’s first chief of staff and most ardent defender in the press: “I think everyone knows it’s an issue, and we have to address it. … He’ll keep on doing the job, campaigning with vigor and demonstrating to the American people his energy level, which is quite robust.”
But one anonymous donor had this to say of the campaign: “I think the strategy is not to even address it, to consider questions like that stupid or silly. Literally everyone is talking about it, even amongst donors. But the response is always: ‘What are you going to do?’”
“The central concern is that Biden … has lost a step and is showing visible signs of aging. He has struggled to sell his economic accomplishments. And there are worries that his campaign, so far devoid of major events or organizing efforts, is not doing enough to deal with the public hand-wringing over his chances or the coming threat of Trump, 77.”
There are other sources of Democratic anxiety that the piece explores:
“Some argue that neither Biden nor his team have effectively communicated a reelection plan, a second-term governing vision or a clear argument against Trump.”
“Democrats have also expressed concern about the campaign’s thin operation in battleground states. Outside of pilot programs for organizing in Arizona and Wisconsin, the campaign has not built on the Democratic National Committee’s presence in key states or placed staff in any of the early primary states.”
The White House and campaign “largely dismissed the concerns as unjustified agita, reminiscent of the criticism Biden’s campaign faced in 2020 and former president BARACK OBAMA’s reelection campaign underwent in the fall of 2011. They argue that the current polling does not capture the likely outcome of an election, which will only come into focus once voters engage next year with the possibility of another Trump term in the White House.”
We chatted with some Biden world folks this morning and got a similar response. Here’s what one said: “The campaign can either build a campaign that is knee-jerk responsive to the same Washington sources that were wrong in ’20 and ’22, or they can put in the historic time and money they are right now to mobilize their coalition to win a year from now. Personally, I think a strategy centered on voters — not Washington — is the right one.”
Related read … Maureen Dowd: “The Axe is Sharp,” in which DAVID AXELROD says of Biden: “I think he has a 50-50 shot here, but no better than that, maybe a little worse.”
By the numbers:In the latest set of brutal polls for Biden, EPIC-MRA finds him losing to Trump by 5 points in Michigan. And an NBC survey clocks his national approval rating at a record low of 40% — including a 15-point plummet since September among young voters — and losing to Trump for the first time ever in their polling.
— Deputy national security adviser JON FINER on negotiations for a multi-day pause and hostage release in the Israel-Hamas war, on ABC’s “This Week”: “These talks have clearly reached a very sensitive stage. … Some of the gaps have now narrowed. Some of the issues that were at odds have now been closed out. But we are not finished — there is not yet a deal in place. And I think it would be premature to conclude that this is inevitable given how close we have come in the past.”
— Sen. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-Conn.) on U.S. and Israeli claims that Hamas is embedded at Al Shifa Hospital, on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “There needs to be more transparency. Both Israel and the United States need to release more of this intelligence. … There is reliable intelligence that can and should be released without compromising sources and methods that would bolster Israel’s case in the court of world opinion, and would also support the United States aiding Israel as it must do.”
— CHRIS CHRISTIE on RNC Chair RONNA McDANIEL’s statement that abortion can’t just be left to the states, on “Meet the Press”: “With all due respect to Ronna, she’s not running for president and she’s never governed. So she doesn’t know how hard these choices are and how you have to interact with people. … Nobody in Washington, D.C., should rob the American people of their right to be heard in each and every state. And when I’m president I won’t do that.”
— Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS on ELON MUSK’s antisemitic conspiracy theory on X last week, on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “I did not see the comment, and so I know that Elon has had a target on his back ever since he purchased Twitter, because I think he’s taking it in a direction that a lot of people who are used to controlling the narrative don’t like.”
TOP-EDS: A roundup of the week’s must-read opinion pieces.
At the White House
Biden and first lady JILL BIDEN will leave New Castle, Del., for Norfolk, Va., where they’ll present an advance screening of “Wonka” for service members and their families before taking part in a Friendsgiving dinner at Norfolk Naval Station, via the Joining Forces Initiative. The Bidens will return to the White House at night.
VP KAMALA HARRIS is in LA, where this morning she addressed the media about the repair of I-10 along with California Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM and LA Mayor KAREN BASS.
On the trail
Trump is heading back to the U.S.-Mexico border today with a campaign event in Edinburg, Texas, where Texas Gov. GREG ABBOTT is expected to endorse him, as CNN reported last week.
9 THINGS FOR YOUR RADAR
1. MIDDLE EAST LATEST: In a major new WaPo op-ed yesterday, Biden laid out his joint case for supporting Israel and Ukraine, holding firm to his stance that “[a]s long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace.” He also for the first time threatened visa bans against Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank. WaPo’s Karen DeYoung dropped the major news last night that the U.S., Israel and Hamas had reached a tentative deal to pause the war for five days and release dozens of hostages — but the story was revised to say only that a deal is close after U.S. officials pushed back.
Pressure is rising from the American left to do more to protect Palestinian civilians. Rep. SARA JACOBS (D-Calif.) became the latest Jewish House member to call for a cease-fire, and Alex Ward and Erin Banco scooped that some Dems are now discussing conditioning future military aid to Israel due to its conduct. Sen. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.) confirmed that plan with an official statement, though the news also prompted backlash from pro-Israel Dems. Tensions boiled over yesterday at a California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento, where more than 1,000 protesters shut down the day’s events early with calls for a cease-fire and condemnation of “Genocide Joe,” the L.A. Times’ Benjamin Oreskes reports.
2. CAN DeSANTIS MAKE A COMEBACK? DeSantis raked in $2 million from Florida fundraisers in just two days this week, Axios’ Alex Thompson reports, as he amasses support from new big donors in his sprint to Iowa. In the Hawkeye State, DeSantis’ strategy is twofold, NYT’s Nicholas Nehamas reports from Des Moines: hammering Trump as insufficiently tough on abortion and starting to speak a bit more from the heart. That included the brief revelation Friday that his wife CASEY suffered a miscarriage years ago.
3. WHAT THE E-RING IS READING: “A split emerges as Biden struggles to deter attacks on U.S. troops,” by WaPo’s Alex Horton, Dan Lamothe and Abigail Hauslohner: “A surge in attacks on deployed U.S. forces has roiled some within the Defense Department, where officials, frustrated by what they consider an incoherent strategy for countering the Iranian proxies believed responsible, acknowledge the limited retaliatory airstrikes approved by President Biden have failed to stop the violence. … [A]s the attack count has continued to climb, so too has the concern that it is a matter of time before one claims a U.S. service member’s life.”
4. PARDON ME: Trump supporters whom he granted pardons are urging the former president to play up the First Step Act in his presidential campaign, seeing it as an opportunity to make inroads with Black voters, NYT’s Maggie Haberman reports. It isn’t clear yet whether Trump will agree with their pitches on the bipartisan sentencing reform law, which has become more controversial among Republicans since it was passed. But it’s “one part of his record that some of his allies believe they can use in 2024 to downplay his strongman rhetoric and actions around race and violence.”
5. DOOR COUNTY DISPATCH: “In a swing Wisconsin county, everyone is tired of politics,” by WaPo’s Danielle Paquette and Sabrina Rodríguez: “The pandemic and inflation have already rattled folks, and the broader political backdrop … has blocked out notice of what both sides cast as accomplishments … Even as the economy grows at the strongest pace in two years, and jobs continue to proliferate, signs of progress are easy to miss amid what voters see as screaming matches. They long for compromise. They want to feel heard and understood. Most Americans, for instance, desire access to abortion, tighter restrictions on guns and affordable health care. Many wonder why our laws don’t reflect that.”
6. HOW TAMMY MURPHY GOT HERE: The New Jersey first lady and now Democratic Senate candidate “was always viewed as a candidate in waiting” — but the Garden State didn’t know where she’d land until now, Dustin Racioppi and Matt Friedman report. The former Republican and Goldman Sachs banker has played a notable policy role in her husband’s administration and now looks poised to capitalize on the support from the Democratic political machine “before voters have a say.” She’ll also benefit from a prominent statewide persona, even as some progressives raise objections about nepotism and Rep. ANDY KIM mounts a rival bid.
7. KNOWING CHAZ NUTTYCOMBE: “He’s correctly predicting the US’s most critical elections. He’s still in college,” by the Guardian’s Sam Levine: The 24-year-old had a perfect record in forecasting this month’s Virginia state legislative elections at cnalysis.com, “and these little-known legislative races are his expertise. … The effort can be much more difficult than forecasting a congressional race. Many of the candidates who run for the seats have no national profile. Polling, if it exists at all, is sparse. … Nuttycombe bases his predictions on a combination of previous election results in a district, campaign finance reports and internal campaign and party data he gets ‘through the grapevine’.”
8. TAKING OUT THE TRASH: The Biden administration has made taking on junk fees one of the unexpected pillars of its economic agenda. But across a wide array of industries, a phalanx of lobbyists has geared up to fight the regulations, warning that the administration will damage their profits and, ultimately, consumers, WaPo’s Tony Romm scooped in a new investigation. “Behind the scenes, these corporations have fought vigorously to thwart even the most basic rules that would require them to be more transparent about hidden charges.”
OUT AND ABOUT — SPOTTED at a party Thursday night to celebrate Jessica Mackler as interim president of EMILY’s List, organized by Tiffany Muller and with toasts from Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.) and Mini Timmaraju: Reps. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Lisa Sherman and Marty Stone, Wendi Wallace, Julie Merz, Martha McKenna, Jen Pihlaja, Tasha Cole, Mindy Myers, Mandy Grunwald, Elisabeth Pearson, Geoff Mackler, Molly Murphy, Lucinda Guinn, Stefanie Brown James, Jessica Knight Henry, Jennifer Lin, Jen Bluestein, Jill Normington, Harris Parnell, Karla Jurvetson and Denise Feriozzi.
— Chris Hughes celebrated his 40th birthday last night with a blowout party at the Grill in New York’s Seagram Building, organized by Bryan Rafanelli. Guests sipped gin martinis and mingled as a jazz quartet played, before proceeding to the Pool Room for a filet mignon dinner. Hughes, Sean Eldridge and friends delivered toasts. SPOTTED: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), CFPB Director Rohit Chopra, Laurene Powell Jobs, Fareed Zakaria, Ezra Klein, Joe Kahn, Darren Walker, Mike Pyle, Benj Pasek, Felicia Wong, Cathy Rampell, Tony Marx, Morena Baccarin, Alex Levy, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Steve Ells, Laurie Segall and Erik Bottcher.
— Touchdown Strategies celebrated its fourth anniversary at Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen at the Wharf. SPOTTED:James Davis, Rob Hallstrom, Peter Cherukuri, Mark Pfeifle, Dwayne Carson, Josselin Castillo and Brent Gardner.
— Lt. Col. Josh Print, the first Space Force guardian to serve on the NSC, celebrated his 40th birthday last night at the Royal Sands Social Club, hosted by Katie Wall. SPOTTED: Will Boyington, Chris Beauregard, Steve Jordan Tomaszewski, Kathleen Karika, Abby Dickes and Lt. Col. Chris Hill.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Time’s Sam Jacobs and Vera Bergengruen … Annie Tomasini … WaPo’s Matt Viser and Dana Hedgpeth … Jack Dorsey … DOJ’s Dena Iverson (4-0) … Emerson Sprick … Matt Lloyd of Sen. Steve Daines’ (R-Mont.) office (5-0) … Meghan Burris of NAFCU … Robert Marcus of the House Foreign Affairs Dems … Neil Bjorkman … Brad Bauman of Fireside Campaigns … Katie Peake of J.A. Green & Co. … Foreign Policy’s Andrew Sollinger … Ricky Wilson … Louis Susman … Cait Graf … NBC’s Lauren McCulloch … former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) … Ann Curry … former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson … Ted Turner … former Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) … Nicole Isaac … former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell … Laura Bridge of the Halifax International Security Forum … Economic Innovation Group’s Milica Cosic … Lt. Col. Josh Print (4-0)
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