Who could replace Biden on the Democratic ticket for US presidential elections if he steps down?

Who could replace Biden on the Democratic ticket for US presidential elections if he steps down?
Should US President Joe Biden be replaced on the Democratic ticket? If so, by whom, and how would that work?  
5 min read
Washington, DC
05 July, 2024
Talk of potential Biden replacements continues following his rough debate performance last week. [Getty]

After US President Joe Biden's shockingly poor debate performance against former President Donald Trump last week, many in the Democratic Party are saying what was until recently unthinkable. Should Biden be replaced on the Democratic ticket?

If so, by whom, and how would that work?  

Kamala Harris

As vice president, Kamala Harris would be the default choice and logistically the most straightforward to take the reins from Biden should he decide to step down, a decision only he can make. 

"The easiest choice is Kamala Harris. She's already on the ticket, and she could spend the campaign funds—no other candidate could. Biden would have to release the funds to a PAC [political action committee]. It's the easiest option, not that she's a slam dunk," Paul Beck, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, told The New Arab

Aside from the issue of campaign funding, J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, says the issue of identity could be difficult to ignore, given the vice president's position as the first Black woman in her role.

"If the Democrats sort of just push her to the side, it could be interpreted that she got her position on the 2020 ticket for just tokenistic reasons," he told TNA.

Even is Harris would make sense as Biden's heir apparent, the question then becomes: could she win? One major challenge would be taking credit for the administration's accomplishments while distancing herself from his less popular policies, most notably his support for Netanyahu in his ongoing military assault on Gaza. 

"Humphrey had a similar tie to Johnson.  He tried to distance himself from the administration," said Beck, invoking the 1968 chaos the Democrats faced as they scrambled to find a suitable candidate following Lyndon Johnson's decision to not seek a second term amid America's unpopular war in Vietnam. 

Gavin Newsom

The governor of California has long been rumoured to have presidential ambitions. His debate against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis early in the presidential election cycle showed his eagerness to go up against a rising star in the Republican Party.

Like Harris, Newsom came up through San Francisco politics and like her, he would probably face similar challenges as Biden's replacement.

Being from California, a state that already leans left, would not give him much crossover appeal. With much of the country already viewing Californians and coastal elites, it doesn't help that during the pandemic, Newsom was caught having dinner with lobbyists at one of California's most expensive restaurants while the rest of his state were required to shelter in place.

On the plus side for Newsom, governors have a favourable track record when it comes to running for president. This could work to Newsom's advantage.

Gretchen Whitmer

The governor of Michigan is often suggested as by pundits as a potential replacement for Biden. Whitmer is a popular governor in an important swing state who would not bring with her the baggage of the current administration.

It is unclear, however, how she would poll in the rest of the country, where she doesn't have major name recognition. 

Moreover, as a strong ally of Biden, she hasn't expressed any interest in replacing him.

"I am proud to support Joe Biden as our nominee, and I am behind him 100 percent in the fight to defeat Donald Trump," she said in a recent statement. "Not only do I believe Joe can win Michigan, I know he can because he’s got the receipts: he’s lowered health care costs, brought back manufacturing jobs, and is committed to restoring the reproductive freedom women lost under Donald Trump."

Josh Shapiro

The governor of Pennsylvania is another popular leader of an important swing state whose name is being floated as a potential replacement for Biden. Like Whitmer, he is standing by the current president.

In an interview on CNN following the debate, he said that Biden earned his primary votes and described Trump as dangerous. Over the past week, he has repeatedly been asked if he would step in to run for president this cycle.

"The answer is no. I just asked the good people of Pennsylvania to be their governor," Shapiro said, when asked against this week if he would consider replacing Biden as the Democratic candidate.

He said, "They honoured me with this opportunity to have the job that I want and the job that I think I can do good things from to make people's lives better. God willing, I will have the health and the ability to continue to serve, and I'll serve all four years."

Andy Beshear

The Democratic governor of Kentucky, a deep red state, could emerge as a dark horse in a potential Biden replacement scenario. Though he has much less name recognition than other potential contenders, that could quickly change if he can emerge as a serious contender.

Unlike some of the other Democratic governors questioned about their desire to enter the race, Beshear seemed to hint that he would potentially be interested if the moment arose.

"He is the candidate, and as long as he is, I'm supporting him," WLKY, a Kentucky news outlet, reported him as saying. "It's flattering when people mention your name and something like that. But I think it's a reflection of all the good things going on in Kentucky."

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Little time to pivot

With each passing day, two months until the Democratic convention and four months until the presidential election, it will be more difficult to replace Biden on the top of the Democratic ticket.

"There's not much time. It's hard to think about this with [Biden] dragging his feet," Richard Groper, a lecturer in political science at California State University in Los Angeles, told TNA, noting that Biden ran on a platform of being a transitional president. 

Now, however, he says, "He doesn't want to go anywhere. He should have stepped down last year and let somebody else run. It wouldn't have been this whole mess."

He added, "Let's be honest. If you can't beat Trump with his record, you're a pretty lousy candidate. He should get out."