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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Why Joe Biden has slow-walked his way to a 2024 run

President Biden made a seemingly off-the-cuff remark in Ireland on Friday that he would announce his campaign “relatively soon.”

By Shane Goldmacher and Reid J. Epstein

Closed-door planning meetings involving White House officials, the Democratic National Committee and outside advisers are intensifying as President Joe Biden nears a final decision about how and when to kick off his 2024 campaign.

Biden’s seemingly off-the-cuff remark at an airport in Ireland on Friday that he would announce his campaign “relatively soon” was the kind of tantalizingly vague comment that could be — and was — read by his aides and others as either a reaffirmation that he was in no particular hurry to announce or a sign of gathering momentum.

Behind the scenes, advisers and allies are weighing how soon the president should set in motion a reelection operation — an announcement that will surprise no one but will signal the start of a challenging new phase of his presidency.

Before Biden’s remarks Friday, conflicting signals abounded about the imminence of an announcement. Preparations have accelerated, according to people involved in and briefed on the planning sessions, even as those involved discuss the pros and cons of delaying a formal announcement into early summer, seeing little advantage in interrupting Republican infighting. At the same time, there has been increasing discussion among the broader Biden team about the notion of a low-key video announcement April 25, the fourth anniversary of his entrance to the 2020 race — the kind of symmetry that Biden is said to appreciate.

What is clear is that any external pressure that Biden and his team once felt to formally enter the 2024 race has mostly evaporated. No serious primary challenge to the president has emerged, and potential opponents have rallied behind him. The leading Republican candidate, former President Donald Trump, faces felony charges related to a hush-money payment to a porn star. And Republicans are generally more focused on thrashing one another and dragging the party to the right than on attacking Biden, who is content to draw a sharp contrast to the GOP chaos from the Oval Office.

“There is no immediate urgency,” said Kate Bedingfield, who recently departed the White House as communications director. “The president has the luxury of being able to decide when he wants to announce.”

The waiting game began last year, with the suggestion that Biden would enter the race after the winter holidays. Then came hints that a campaign would begin after the State of the Union address and the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Then the likely timing was April, to take advantage of the beginning of a fundraising quarter. (Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, said, “There has never been a time frame for any announcement.”)

Inside the West Wing, Biden has kept most direct discussions about 2024 limited to a pin-size inner circle, where two senior aides, Anita Dunn and Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, are taking the lead. He has yet to designate a campaign chief, and only last week Democrats announced that Chicago would host the party’s 2024 convention.

At 80, Biden is already the oldest president in American history, and he is likely to face questions about his plans no matter how many times he teases his reelection intentions without formalizing them. “I’m planning on running, Al,” he told Al Roker of NBC News at the White House Easter Egg Roll last week. “But we’re not prepared to announce it yet.”

Biden’s timeline is well behind where President Barack Obama’s was at this point in 2011. Obama released a video that year in the first week of April announcing his bid, but top aides including David Axelrod and Jim Messina had begun forming the campaign months earlier. And Obama had chosen Charlotte, North Carolina, to host the convention in early February 2011.

A top Democratic donor allied with Biden was quietly asked early this year to begin planning for a New York fundraising trip in late April or early May to coincide with a potential kickoff to a 2024 reelection campaign. Then the donor received new guidance recently that such an event was on hold — and no new timeline was provided.

“The longer he waits, the less scrutiny he is under,” said Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist. “You have to measure that against creating momentum in these states that will matter. You’ve got to build infrastructure.”

Money is at the center of the timing conversation. Delaying will postpone building a war chest for the general election.

Those preparing to raise money for the campaign express few doubts that the party’s big donors will pony up to back Biden, and some officials fear an earlier entry might prove to be a wheel-spinning exercise, demanding that the aging president traverse the grueling fundraising circuit sooner than necessary.

And given that a majority of Democrats consistently say in polls that they prefer someone other than Biden as the nominee, a reliable infusion of grassroots dollars is not guaranteed — at least until voters see the stakes of the election. Biden struggled to raise money online in 2019, breaking records only once he emerged as the nominee.

Biden’s advisers argue that he and the Democrats bucked political history — and similar low ratings — to outperform in the 2022 midterm elections, in part by relentlessly painting Republicans as extremists.

That is the basic blueprint for 2024. The Biden campaign-in-waiting is expected to be built around one of the president’s favorite political sayings: Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.

If Obama had soaring oratory and Trump had concertlike rallies, Biden’s advisers feel his strength is his governing ability and projection of competence. Spending time on the campaign trail, with its unscripted moments, introduces the risk of age-related mishaps.

Biden’s slipping on stairs while boarding Air Force One or falling off a bicycle were minor episodes during his first two years in office that nonetheless circulated heavily in the conservative news media. A similar incident during the heat of a presidential campaign could be far more significant.

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., who is close with Biden, downplayed the timing of his 2024 entry. “The American people are going to judge him on the job that he’s done for four years as president,” she said, “not on the one day that he announces.”

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