Biden’s soft power hasn’t been enough to deter potential rivals from grabbing the 2024 spotlight

WASHINGTON — White House officials are closely following the political activities of at least half a dozen Democrats considered potential alternatives to President Joe Biden in the 2024 election.

The administration appears to be analyzing the words and actions of up-and-coming Democrats across the country, unleashing a charm offensive in response to those who seem to be getting a little too ambitious on their own.

The strategy – which some Democrats close to the White House say relies too heavily on soft power and lacks a traditional enforcer – has not been particularly effective. Biden couldn’t stop Democrats from raising their national profile or silencing doubts within the party about his inevitability.

This article is based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former White House officials, lawmakers, Democratic donors and other sources close to the Biden operation.

As Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois and Governor Gavin Newsom of California gained momentum by meddling in national politics, the White House was quick to host them at separate events.

In Washington this month, Newsom assured White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain in a private conversation that he was “not interested” in running for president in 2024, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Days later, Newsom began running political ads in Texas attacking Gov. Greg Abbott over abortion rights and guns.

On Capitol Hill, Biden and senior White House officials have had to spend time co-opting progressive critics who have also spurred talk of 2024 ambitions, including Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., with private praise.

And in the West Wing, Biden’s press team has compiled a list of quotes from potential rivals who insist they back the president. (The comments by Pritzker, Khanna, and Newsom are all from the same article in early July.)

“No one likes it when someone carries away coffins for you. It’s just like – ‘Not so fast. I’m going to make that decision,'” said Democratic donor John Morgan. “It’s like they go to the swim meet and Biden is the defending gold medalist. But they all have their bathing suits on under their pants. They’re ready to get up there and jump as soon as he says “Go.” You can’t just walk around the arena in a bathing suit because that would really upset Biden.”

The keep-fememies-close approach is a sign the White House is more concerned about its potential political rivals drawing contrasts with it, which Biden allies say they have been doing. Several White House officials have insisted in interviews that the administration is not concerned or worried about the possibility of a rare intra-party challenge for an incumbent president.

But the tactic also reflects the limits of White House power at a time when Biden’s approval ratings are in the tank and up to three-quarters of Democrats are telling pollsters they would prefer a different candidate in 2024.

And as the President quickly recovers from Covid and strikes a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., to implement more of the White House agenda, the White House is reviewing plans for a robust travel plan that will fall on behalf of the Democratic candidates up and down the ballots.

That belies a finding, sources close to the White House political operation say, that the president is in a weak political moment — including Biden himself. When a reporter recently asked the president what his message to Democrats was, it wasn’t Wanting him to run for a second term, the President retorted, “Read the polls, Jack. You are all the same. This poll showed that if I ran, 92% of Democrats would vote for me.”

But in the poll cited by Biden, conducted by the New York Times and Siena College, 64% of Democrats said they would rather nominate someone from the party than him. That figure was 75% in a CNN poll published Wednesday.

Such polls provide an obvious incentive for other Democrats to start warming up the engines of their campaign machines. But White House allies say there is no opening.

“It borders on stupid,” said Democratic strategist Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton. “If for some reason Biden isn’t at the top of the ticket, good luck to everyone who refuses to nominate Kamala. Especially a white man,” he said, referring to Vice President Kamala Harris.

Still, some Biden allies fear he is temperamentally incapable of crushing potential threats himself and say he has failed to arm his political operation with an invaluable tool: a hatchet.

In 2012, then-President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign worked to forestall a possible challenge from Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, said in an interview. He used then-Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid as a middleman to “take out Bernie” and dissuade him from running.

“There is no hammer,” lamented a former Biden White House official in Biden’s camp.

“There is nobody in government that anybody is afraid of,” added a longtime Biden ally. “You don’t have an enforcer in the White House that anyone takes seriously.”

Without that leverage, the White House is struggling to quash narratives that Biden, at 79, is too old or politically weak to run for re-election. And that puts him in danger of being viewed as a lame duck in just his second year in office.

Biden himself has used more honey than vinegar to approach the potential hopefuls of 2024.

After the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, the President invited Pritzker to the Oval Office where they discussed the need for broader gun reform, and he again offered the city any federal funding it needed, according to Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering who also attended the meeting.

But Biden then took a moment to praise the governor, who just a week earlier had suggested that the president could face a primary and that there is historical precedent for doing so, though he added that he did not encourage a challenge.

“You have a great governor in Illinois,” Biden said, according to a person briefed on the meeting. “He’s passing on what we need to pass in DC and across the country.”

Biden then took photos with the group and they sat on the patio before heading to the event together.

Top Pritzker officials had also called the White House foreign affairs team before the governor’s trip to New Hampshire in June to see the optics of the visit. Along with the heads-up, aides shared a video clip of the governor publicly stating he was not interested in running against Biden, according to a person with direct knowledge of the communications. They did the same before Pritzker’s subsequent address to the Florida Democrats, in which he made attacks on Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Those trips only fueled more headlines and speculation about 2024.

While sources close to Newsom say he could easily change his mind about running for office in 2024, he has made it a point to quell speculation about presidential ambitions in talks with party insiders.

“He said he’s not running,” said Christine Pelosi, a member of the Democratic National Committee from California and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who texted Newsom earlier this month to inquire about his plans to inquire.

“He’s just frustrated with how Republicans were able to take over this debate [on certain issues] and how Democrats must fight harder to take it back and showcase our achievements,” she added. “That’s what he said.”

Biden has recently drawn sharper contrasts with former President Donald Trump, who may announce a 2024 bid ahead of the November midterm elections, to signal Democrats questioning his political viability that he is the one who can beat Trump.

In virtual remarks to law enforcement officials on Monday — the day before Trump returned to Washington to deliver a “law and order” speech — Biden slammed the former president over the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

“You can’t be for riots and cops,” Biden said. The event was one for him to speak in person, part of a planned two-city swing in Florida’s key battlefield that would also include his first campaign rally of the Midterms. The Democratic National Committee said the trip would be postponed.

Trump is the backbone of Biden’s argument to fellow Democrats that he is their best bet to hold the White House.

“I pretend you can’t get in [the] Trump contrast too early. It’s the best setting for us,” a White House official said. “Gavin Newsom has a more compelling argument as to why he would hit Trump?”

in one Yahoo! News/YouGov poll Earlier this month, Biden held a 42% to 40% lead over Trump. Newsom edged out Trump by 40% to 39%, while Harris tied with Trump at 41%.

Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and former chair of the Democratic National Committee, has dismissed any notion of a primary challenge.

“The President has said he is running for re-election. His staff are gearing up for him to run for re-election, and we all need to stand behind Joe Biden. There’s this constant state of negativity with Democrats,” said McAuliffe, who is being considered for a cabinet or other senior position in the Biden administration.

He also noted that elected officials have a lot at stake when taking over an incumbent president.

“Every Democratic governor wants to keep the White House and the President on their good side. You want one of these new ones [computer] Chip plants in their condition. They want to make sure they get infrastructure funding and don’t do anything that would jeopardize their relationship with the White House.” Biden’s soft power hasn’t been enough to deter potential rivals from grabbing the 2024 spotlight

Fry Electronics Team

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