There is an almost obsessive preoccupation with Biden’s age. And in his video, Biden tried to portray himself as an ageless champion who will “fight for the soul of America” by taking on conservatives who ban books, making it harder to vote and interfere in decisions about the women’s health care.
However, this campaign will be very different from the social distancing campaign he successfully navigated in 2020 with few public appearances during the height of the pandemic.
There is a perceived lack of enthusiasm for his campaign, with many Democratic activists resigned to the fact that Biden is their best shot at preventing Republicans from reclaiming the presidency. And the reality for Biden is that many activists — natural surrogates to reinforce his message — are getting tired. Many see themselves as loyal foot soldiers in the fight against culture wars waged in conservative legislators pushing for tougher laws targeting abortion and voting.
Many do not see Biden himself as a stimulatory force in 2024.
“He’s not going to energize the grassroots,” Cliff Albright, executive director of Black Voters Matter Fund, told The Recast’s newsletter with a hint of a chuckle.
“Obviously it’s going to have to be surrogates to do the stimulant part, but he’s got some achievements, including some that directly affect black people that he can make a message around.”
Albright says the relaunch video was strong and he was pleased to see Biden leaning so heavily on voting rights, an issue he says is critical to black voters — even though Democrats failed to introduce federal protections when the party held a ruling trifecta.
“Sometimes black people just want to see, ‘We want to see you fight,'” Albright says. “We are not naive. We’re used to battles that we know we can’t win because we don’t have the votes…but we want people to fight for us.”
Many Democratic strategists and activists give the Biden administration high marks for stabilizing the economy after the pandemic shutdown, passing bipartisan infrastructure legislation and nominating Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to the Supreme Court.
Those are, they say, achievements Biden should be touting.
They also hope that the Biden administration can craft a coherent campaign message, one that showcases its achievements but also serves as a clarion call for the battle ahead, which still requires a united front of elected officials and activists. Keeping the activist class engaged and energized is key, but there is also a hard truth being spoken among grassroots organizers.
“I think what you’re seeing is we’re burnt out,” said Nina Smith, a longtime Democratic political strategist and activist who worked on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign over the past cycle.
“There are a lot of people right now who are just tired and gone. People I worked with in 2020 have left and are not as engaged anymore.
“That’s the real danger here,” she adds.
Activists note that if the Biden campaign invests in and engages community organizers early on, this early fatigue can be overcome.
Many also say Biden should rely on a new class of elected officials, including freshman Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) and Tennessee State Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, to help elevate his campaign to a tired progressive base.
The “two Justins,” as they are sometimes referred to, are both young black men who were each expelled from the GOP-led Tennessee legislature before being reinstated the following week.
Together with State Representative Gloria Johnson, who is white and survived an eviction vote, they make up the “Tennessee Three.” On Monday, they met with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House to push the administration to declare gun violence a public health emergency.
Still, activists on the left may be overlooking Biden, who will be 82 years old when sworn in for another term. Instead, they say, they are inspired by the woman running his campaign: Julie Chávez Rodríguez. She is a senior adviser to the White House and the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, the famed labor leader and Chicano icon.
Not everyone agrees that enough is enough.
“That alone will not be something that is going to happen [bring] Latino voters out for President Biden,” said Mayra López-Zuniga, a political strategist with the progressive group Mijente. “I think we need a little more content.”
As she sees it, many Latino voters don’t feel that their lives have changed for the better during the Biden administration. Massive pay gaps persist between Latinas and non-Hispanic men. With a measure of the Justice for women reportLatinas earn 54 cents for every dollar a white person earns.
Then there’s immigration, which was not mentioned in the relaunch of the president’s campaign video and is seen as a potential liability for Biden heading into 2024.
“The president has failed to deliver on immigration, no asylum reform, DACA is still up in the air,” López-Zuniga tells The Recast. “So I don’t know at this point if there’s tremendous energy for what 2024 is going to look like.”
As Biden and his advisers try to project the image of a spry commander-in-chief, questions about his vitality will hover over his re-election prospects — as well as concerns that voters just don’t like him very much. The latest data point underline that came in a NBC News poll released on Sunday.
It found that a whopping 70 percent of Americans think Biden should not run — including 51 percent of Democrats. That’s compared to just 26 percent who said he should walk. Of those who said he shouldn’t run, a combined 69 percent cited his age as the reason.
Still: a lot can happen in a campaign over the course of 18 months. If anyone knows this, it’s Biden himself.
This article first appeared in an edition of The Recast Newsletter.