On Monday (10), when Al Roker of the “Today” program asked Joe Biden about a second term, the president replied: “I plan to run, but we are not ready to announce it yet.”
That response strikes me as part of a series of soft throws and quasi-compromises designed to manage expectations, but the president and those around him have signaled that he intends to seek re-election. When the time comes, an official statement will be just a formality, a campaign device to focus attention and coverage.
Biden is running now. And, anticipating the inevitable, in recent weeks I’ve spoken with several political advisers who have campaigned for Democratic presidents to get their assessments of Biden’s strengths and weaknesses. The list includes Timothy Kraft, who ran Jimmy Carter’s 1980 re-election campaign until just before the election, and Les Francis, who took charge of day-to-day operations in Kraft’s wake. It also includes James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, and David Plouffe, who ran Barack Obama’s in 2008.
I wasn’t interested in predictions, which are almost useless so far from Election Day. I didn’t ask how the race would go at the end, but how it would go at the start.
For starters, there was consensus that Biden’s political record is strong. The economy, a mix of low unemployment and high inflation, may be a boon for the president right now, but some say voters’ perceptions of it closer to the election will be more important. As Plouffe said, “People have a life and they are living it now.” It’s about what people think of this life at the time they vote, regardless of what the data says or what the future holds.
Most of these political professionals agreed that Biden’s age will be a significant problem to overcome – one of the reasons they prefer a rematch with Donald Trump over a race against a younger, rookie Republican presidential candidate who could plot. a stronger contrast of generations. It’s not clear how the age issue will play out, but as Kraft said, Republicans will use that ploy against Biden.
Another reason Trump is the preferred opponent is that, as Francis noted, “he is damaged goods and will be damaged more.” The consensus was that Trump’s legal troubles will help him in the primary but weaken him in the general election. The reasoning is simple: among those who voted against the chaos created by Trump in 2020, who would vote for him in 2024 after he sowed even more chaos?
Several consultants were aware of and concerned about the growing party divide in the country and the dwindling number of voters and swing districts – the dwindling number of minds to change and hearts to win. Countless numbers of people in the United States “probably have never met anyone from the other party,” Carville said.
It raised perhaps the most interesting concern, and one I didn’t see coming: “The biggest story in my mind about 2022 is the abysmally low turnout of black people.” It’s specifically, he said, “a problem with younger black voters.” In recent midterm elections, even in places where Democrats fielded strong black candidates against troubled Republican opponents, Carville found black voter turnout lower than expected. But he is not sure what is causing this problem or how to fix it.
I spoke with Terrance Woodbury, founding partner of HIT Strategies, a consultancy that researches black voter sentiment. A January poll found that three-quarters of black voters don’t believe their lives have improved since Biden became president, despite his administration “initiating or completing” most of his racial agenda, Woodbury said.
He also highlighted what can only be described as an obvious lack of communication, especially when it comes to young people. As he said, “It’s not that we haven’t made progress,” it’s that younger black voters “don’t know about progress.” Now, people might chafe at Woodbury’s characterization and criticize voters for not keeping up with political news, but it’s not a winning strategy to blame the voters you’re trying to attract.
Kraft echoed the concern and said it was beyond the reach of black voters: “The chairman of the Democratic National Committee should be on the Sunday talk shows or he should have more guest columns, op-eds, whatever.”
Carville is also concerned about Republicans’ use of the word and idea of ”wokeness” as a weapon. If being “woke,” he said, “means that people, particularly black people, should be aware of the interactions they have with white power, that’s a totally legitimate word.” “But if it means the triumph of identity over ideology, you lose me and I think you lose a lot of people.”
He went further in trying to isolate Biden from the concept, saying, “The most ‘un-woken’ person is Joe Biden”, even as he “became the greatest president for black America we ever had, maybe”.
I think that’s overkill, and the placement may do more harm than good in trying to attract young black voters, but it might work to attract another demographic that Democrats are concerned about: college graduates. Indeed, one of Carville’s central complaints about “wokeness” is his belief that it has been appropriated by white intellectuals.
All of this leads to a question that Plouffe calls “the biggest question in American politics today”: whether Republicans will continue to make gains from black voters with no college education at a time when “the gaps in education are much more serious than in 2008.” or 2012″, with Democrats attracting more graduates, and Republicans strengthening their position among non-graduates.
My conclusion from these conversations was that, at least at the start of his campaign, Biden has obvious advantages but faces significant obstacles. Often, late in campaigns, Democrats try to use fear of the opponent as voter motivation. But this can have unforeseen effect.
As Woodbury told me, his firm has seen significant erosion in participation and support for Democrats in 2022 among black men because they “don’t respond to messages of fear and defeat.” Instead, he explained, “they need a message of what they’ve gained, not what they’re going to gain.”
They respond to a message that they are empowered rather than endangered. That message, which should already have been a more central part of the Democrats’ overall discourse, needs to start now.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves
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