Replacing Biden? It’s Not That Simple

Here’s why the chances of the Democrats replacing the President are slim but not out of the realm of possibility.

Since last Thursday’s debate, speculation in the media has been rampant that Democratic leaders are going to find a way to convince President Joe Biden to end his re-election effort and allow another to become the party nominee.

It is important to remember that because Mr. Biden is the Presumptive Democratic Nominee, meaning he has enough bound delegate votes to win the nomination on the first convention ballot, any change in this status would require the affected candidate’s consent.

Reality check: The chances of the Democrats replacing the President are slim but not out of the realm of possibility, and the procedural logistics, of which most who are publicly calling for a new candidate are not even considering, could cause major problems.

According to Federal Election Commissioner Trey Trainor, making such a move would be difficult even if Mr. Biden were to voluntarily step down and the national convention delegates chose a replacement nominee, because the new nominee would have to traverse 50 different state ballot processes and comply with all requirements in a short amount of time.

How it works: The delegates are compelled, in most cases by state law (versus party rule) to support, at least on the first ballot, the candidate who the electorate chooses through the primary vote. The common view is that the President, should he agree to leave the campaign, would free his delegates, but a candidate might not have such power over every state delegation.

As a result, some states wouldn’t allow a new candidate to assume the delegate votes that the Democratic primary voters pledged to Mr. Biden. Or, for those places that would allow the swap, we could see lawsuits arising on behalf of the voters to block a particular state’s delegates from casting a nomination floor vote for a candidate who their electorate did not support. 

Another reality check: According to the latest available campaign finance information, Mr. Biden’s campaign has approximately $240 million in his campaign accounts. If Vice President Kamala Harris were to step in as the presidential nominee, then she would inherit these funds. But because of a joint fundraising agreement between the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee, transferring large sums to the committee or another candidate becomes much more complicated.

Driving the news: Leaked post-debate polling from Democratic data firm OpenLabs shows the President losing about two points in the critical toss-up states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where he was already behind prior to Thursday night. It even showed more reliably blue states like New Mexico and Virginia to be in play.

The polling also found U.S. Dept. of Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer outperforming the President, Vice President, and California Gov. Gavin Newson. But any move by the DNC to leapfrog over Ms. Harris would likely elicit a revolt from a sizeable portion of grassroots party members and leaders.

What to watch: Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, along with prominent Democratic members of Congress, such as Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), have already voiced support for President Biden. This on top of the cumbersome logistics even to launch a new campaign at this point in the cycle, mean that party leadership will likely not attempt to remove the President from the re-election campaign. 

As of this writing, no major Democrat official has called for Mr. Biden to step aside. Only two congressional Democrats, Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), have come forward to do so.

What’s next: Things could change if a flurry of lawmakers and party leaders make similar calls in the coming days, and Reuters is reporting that 25 House Democrats may be preparing to do so. If they don’t, the banter about “switching Biden out” for a stronger general election candidate will likely soon quell. But the clock is ticking. Should Democrats stick with the President, the DNC has until August 7 to nominate him virtually in order to meet Ohio’s ballot deadline.

Please contact David Ashinoff for more information.

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