Democrats have no credible alternative

January 23, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 4

  • Democrats are really, really stuck with Biden
  • Tim Kaine is running for reelection
  • Manchin and Tester still won’t commit


Biden 2024: As one batch of Obama-era classified papers after another is being found at Joe Biden’s residence, suddenly a lot of commentators look foolish. After savaging former President Donald Trump for similar hoarding of classified documents, they tepidly defended Biden at first. But as more and more documents have emerged, it almost seemed like at some of them have started trying to ease the poor guy out of the 2024 nomination and see him not run for reelection.

No such luck for them. Biden’s administration may now look ridiculous because of its conniption fit over the earlier Trump document scandal, but that won’t stop Biden from crowding out the rest of the presidential field if he wants to be reelected president.

It’s early days in the 2024 cycle, of course, but Biden already trails either Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or both in three recent polls (two by Harvard-Harris and one earlier one by USA today-Suffolk). This is never a good place for an incumbent to be. His disapproval rating remains firmly above 50%, which is also not a good place for an incumbent.

Democrats’ problem is that they still don’t really have anyone waiting in the wings to take him on if he decides he’s going to run. His 2020 rivals are mostly either inside his administration (as with Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris) or already openly supporting his re-election (as with Sen. Elizabeth Warren) or running for re-election to other offices (as with Sen. Amy Klobuchar).

Probably the only viable Democratic candidates who are outside of his administration would be governors such as Jared Polis of Colorado, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, and Gavin Newsom of California. But both Newsom and Whitmer have said they will not run, Newsom even going so far as to personally pledge to Biden that he won’t be running against him.

So in the end, Democrats are kind of stuck with Biden, for good or for ill. This is the other side of the coin from the Republicans’ failure to generate a Red Wave election in November — there remains a lot of pent-up, unresolved anger in the electorate over Biden’s performance.

Governor 2023

Kentucky: Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) easily leads the race for the Republican nomination for governor, If you believe his own poll. He has 62% favorability among Republican voters, and at 39% support in the primary race, towering over all the other candidates, who are all in single digits. The primary election is May 16. Gov. Andy Beshear (D) will easily win renomination on the Democratic side.

Mississippi: This race could end up being quite close, as a poll by local media shows Gov. Tate Reeves only leading Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley by four points, 43% to 39%. However, the same poll showed Reeves in relatively good shape (leading, 52% to 29%) in the event that he has to face a primary election challenge from former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller, Jr. 

Governor 2024

North Carolina: Attorney General Josh Stein (D) has officially announced for governor, and he is considered the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic nomination. Among Republicans, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson (R), the state’s first black lieutenant governor and an enthusiastic supporter of gun rights, has expressed interest.

Senate 2024

Arizona: Rep. Ruben Gallego (D) is indeed running for Senate, as expected. This could result in an interesting three-way race between him, independent and formerly Democratic incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and some Republican yet to be named. Already, both Blake Masters and Kari Lake have shown some interest on the Republican side,

Maine: Just before Christmas, Sen. Angus King (I) let slip that he is indeed running for re-election, despite having hinted that he would retire. King caucuses with the Democrats and has never faced a serious election challenge from Republicans.

Montana: The clock is ticking, and Sen. Jon Tester (D) has not yet committed to running for reelection. Democrats are desperately hoping that he does, because at this point he might be their only hope of hanging on to the seat, in a year when their party has no serious prospects of picking up any seats, anywhere. Remember, the loss of even one or two seats will mean the end of their control of the Senate. 

Tester is the Democrats’ last man standing statewide, so there is also something symbolic about his departure, if he chooses to retire. Republicans have not controlled all of Montana’s elected statewide offices, including its two U.S. Senate seats, since the 19th Century, and they have not controlled both Senate seats at the same time in over 100 years.

New York: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has maintained a very low profile ever since her brief attempt at a presidential run in 2019. Her approval ratings are positive, but not remarkably so — a poll during the recent governor’s race showed her in the low 40s.

But Gillibrand has no room for complacency. A number of Democrats could challenge her from the left, and one of them is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which could make for a seriously entertaining primary season.

At $5.4 million, Ocasio-Cortez already has more money in the bank than Gillibrand’s $4.3 million,  but she could increase this advantage rapidly and considerably if she started now. 

Given that New York Democrats are among the farthest left wing in America, this seems like a winnable primary for Ocasio-Cortez, assuming she can discourage other leftists from entering.

Another possible candidate is Rep. Ritchie Torres (D).

Pennsylvania: David McCormick, the former hedge fund CEO and Army Ranger who lost the Senate primary last year to Mehmet Oz, is reportedly considering a run next year against Sen. Bob Casey (D). Casey has never had trouble in an election, but that’s mostly because Republicans have never really put a strong candidate up against him — including the incumbent he defeated in 2006, Rick Santorum, who had been in very bad political shape all year. 

Virginia: Senate Democrats are relieved that Sen. Tim Kaine (D) is running for reelection instead of bowing out in what could be rough year for them. This would have been an inconvenient year in which to lose him. Politico reports that Hung Cao (R), who lost a Northern Virginia House race against Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D) last year, is considering a run against him.

West Virginia: Sen. Joe Manchin (D) says he has not even decided whether he wants to run for reelection, or even what party he would run as part of if he did. He didn’t even rule out running for president, which is certainly a stretch. The one thing Manchin has definitely ruled out is running in next year’s open-seat governor’s race.

Manchin’s approval rating at home was recently clocked at 42% — down from 60% at the beginning of 2022 — with 51% disapproving of his performance in office. So even a party-switch may not save him at this point. Unlike 2018, when Manchin narrowly survived, this will be a presidential year, and the Republican candidate will win by a massive margin at the top of the ticket in the Mountain State.

If he does become a Republican, Manchin would restore the Senate 50-50 again going into the 2024 election, making Democrats’ task of keeping control even harder.