A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
The alarm bells are ringing for Democrats who look at a new CNN Poll out Wednesday.
Some key lines from CNN’s report by Ariel Edwards-Levy and Jennifer Agiesta:
- “…nearly half of registered voters (46%) say that any Republican presidential nominee would be a better choice than Biden in 2024.”
- “…his job approval rating stands at just 39%. … 58% say that his policies have made economic conditions in the US worse…”
- “A smaller share of the public than ever now says … that he has the stamina and sharpness to serve effectively as president (26%, down 6 points from March), with those declines driven largely by Democrats and independents…”
But the fact remains that despite Democrats’ obvious unease with Biden, there’s no organized clamoring for someone else. Even if there was, there’s not much time.
Is there time for an alternative?
There is no nationwide date by which candidates must declare their candidacies. If additional Democrats were to challenge Biden, they would do so within the 50-state patchwork party primary process. Each state has its own primary rules and deadlines. Nevada requires primary candidates to submit their paperwork by mid-October. South Carolina requires candidates to submit their paperwork in November.
But the Democratic National Committee, at Biden’s behest, is currently locked in a standoff with both Iowa and New Hampshire, which for decades have held the first caucus in Iowa and first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.
Biden didn’t win either state during the 2020 primaries and, in an effort to reward the South Carolina primary that reignited his campaign, Democrats moved both states out of their traditional positions under national party rules. Iowa Democrats haven’t yet said when their nominating process will take place and while the New Hampshire government is set on holding its primary first, a date still hasn’t been announced.
The end result may be that Democrats essentially ignore Iowa’s caucus or New Hampshire’s primary
Biden may not even be on the ballot in New Hampshire if, as predicted, it carries forward with a January primary.
Are the alternatives?
The most visible person who is challenging Biden, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is a noted vaccine skeptic and has pushed conspiracy theories that make him unpalatable to most voters.
The fact that notable progressives à la Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has run for president twice as a Democrat, are not clamoring for a Biden alternative is tell that the motivated base on the left wing of the party is at least content with Biden’s chances and his performance so far.
For every Democrat jittery about Biden, there is a Republican jittery about Trump
Anti-Trump Republicans like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu are adamant that a viable Trump alternative exists.
Sununu became “animated and agitated” when CNN’s Jeff Zeleny asked if Trump was on an unstoppable march to the nomination.
“Oh God no!” Sununu told Zeleny.
But none of the candidates challenging Trump have yet caught on in polling and in fact Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has faded in recent surveys.
The idea that a Republican who is not running – Virginia’s Gov. Glenn Younkin, say – could jump in the race and rocket to challenge Trump seems equally unlikely.
Which is why until you see someone with some name recognition and either deep pockets or financial backing seriously talk about entering the race, a believable Democratic alternative to Biden or a last-minute Republican alternative to Trump seems academic. Could it technically happen? Sure. Are there any indications it is happening? No.
What about an independent?
While navigating the party primary system might seem complicated, the advantage of utilizing it is that the main political parties, and frequently some minor ones, have a reserved slot on the general election ballot in December.
A major obstacle to an independent candidate would be to gain that ballot access in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – or at least enough states to cobble together 270 electoral votes. Most of those filing deadlines do not arrive until later in 2024.
A national independent campaign would require staffers, fundraising and organizers. That process takes time and even some established third parties do not get on the ballot in every state.
The Libertarian Party is frequently able to get its candidate ballot access in all 50 states and the Green Party works each year to maintain the support it needs to appear on ballots. As of July, the Green Party lacked ballot access in a large portion of the country.