US Elections: Is a Biden Replacement Possible for Democrats?

As the American elections approach, questions arise about whether the Democratic Party might consider replacing Joe Biden as their presidential candidate

by Sededin Dedovic
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US Elections: Is a Biden Replacement Possible for Democrats?
© Andrew Harnik / Getty Images

After the first debate between U.S. President Joe Biden and his challenger Donald Trump, it's no exaggeration to say that the liberal part of the country was in despair. Biden sounded weak. He kept making statements that didn't make sense.

Social media users joked that Vice President Kamala Harris should "replace" Biden during commercial breaks, but they also said that the debate seemed like some kind of humiliating family quarrel. "Democrats are in a panic," assessed DW's Washington bureau chief Ines Pohl immediately after the debate ended.

But what state are the Democrats in a few days after the duel? "Right after the debate, there was a lot of nervousness and negative energy within the party. But over the past few days, there has been a consolidation in the Democratic Party base," said Katrin Klifer Ashbrook, a German-American expert on transatlantic policy from the German Bertelsmann Foundation, to DW.

"Potential candidates, who were suggested to replace Joe Biden, provided strong support for the president immediately after the debate." California Governor Gavin Newsom, one of those mentioned as a replacement for Biden, said on American television MSNBC: "You don't turn your back on a candidate because of one performance.

What party does that?"

How likely is it that Biden will withdraw?

The fact is that even before the debate, there was concern that Biden, due to his age, was not the best candidate for the election. That concern intensified after the duel with Trump.

Replacing a presidential candidate, who is also the current president of the United States, so late in the race, would be very unusual. But, it's not impossible. "To replace a candidate at this point, ideally, he should withdraw himself," says Filippo Trevisan, an associate professor at the American University School of Communication.

That would be the simplest, he believes. Trevisan also says he doesn't think Biden, who has spent his entire life in politics, will withdraw and give up the chance to win a second term in the White House. "Things could change over the next week when the poll results are reviewed," adds Trevisan, an expert on American politics and campaigns.

"But at the moment, based on what we've heard from Biden and his campaign team, I think it's very unlikely that he will withdraw." On July 1, as part of Biden's campaign, an advertisement was released showing a determined Joe Biden speaking to an audience: "I know I'm not a young man, but I know how to do this job.

And I know, as millions of Americans know, that after you fall - you get up."

Open convention: What will happen if Biden steps down?

In the primaries, supporters of Democrats and Republicans vote for the politician they want to be their candidate.

Whoever wins in one of the 50 American states "gets" the delegates from that state. At the national convention in August, or the Democratic Party Congress, these delegates vote for who will be the Democratic presidential candidate.

The vast majority of them are already pledged to Biden. They are not legally required to vote for him, but by the nature of things, and the way the primary process works in the U.S., it is expected of them. If Biden steps down, "there will be general chaos and an uncontrollable situation," points out Trevisan.

"They could then vote for whoever they want." This is then called an "open convention." The delegates would in that case vote according to their conscience. The Democratic Party leadership would choose the candidate they think has the best chance of winning the U.S.

presidential election and try to convince the delegates to vote for him. "Vice President Kamala Harris would have the right to be the first option," Jay Miles Coleman, an analyst and election expert from the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told DW right after the duel.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris © Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

American politics and campaign expert Trevisan believes that choosing Kamala Harris in that case might not be the best move.

"Her association with the Biden administration could have a negative effect. Her rating is similar to Biden's." When the president is unable to perform duties due to, for example, illness or urgent medical intervention, the vice president takes over.

But, she does not automatically become a candidate when the president steps down before the party convention.

Possible replacements for Biden: Harris, Newsom, Whitmer

Several names have been suggested as possible presidential candidates if Biden withdraws from the presidential race.

Besides Vice President Harris and California Governor Newsom, there is also Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She was first elected governor in 2018 and then re-elected in 2022. Her re-election as governor is considered a great success because 2022 was an election year under a Democratic president (Biden) and it is usually harder for candidates from the incumbent president's party to win over voters then.

But, Whitmer succeeded, with a larger margin than expected, and in the important, key state of Michigan, which is not considered a safe state for Democrats like California or New York. However, like other powerful Democratic politicians, Whitmer strongly supported Biden after the debate, writing on the social network X: "We must re-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris."

Can another candidate be chosen against Biden's will?

What if Biden does not step down, and the Democrats still want to nominate another candidate for the U.S.

president at the convention, or the party Congress in August? "That won't work," says Kliver Ashbrook. "The U.S. has already had primaries for the selection, or election, of the Democratic presidential candidate, in which Biden won 99 percent of the delegates.

Consciously opposing delegate voting would be bypassing the democratic process. When the country is in a dangerous moment for democracy, no one in the Democratic Party will try that," Ashbrook believes. If Biden were to withdraw later, after the convention, for example for health reasons, then even the delegates could not vote on a new candidate.

Instead, the Democratic National Committee would meet and decide on the candidate - and that is something that would surely spark debates about the state of democracy in the U.S. Source: Deutsche Welle

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