Here’s why it would be tough for Democrats to replace Joe Biden on the presidential ticket

 (AP) — President Joe Biden’s halting debate performance has led some in his own party to begin questioning whether he should be replaced on the ballot before November.

There is no evidence Biden is willing to end his campaign. And it would be nearly impossible for Democrats to replace him unless he chooses to step aside.

Here’s why:

Delegates Biden won in the primaries are pledged to support him

Every state has already held its presidential primary. Democratic rules say that the delegates Biden won should support him at the party’s upcoming national convention unless he tells them he’s leaving the race.

The president indicated that he had no plans to do that, telling supporters in Atlanta shortly after he left the debate stage, “Let’s keep going.” Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt was even clearer, saying Friday: “Of course, he’s not dropping out.”

The conventions and their rules are controlled by the political parties. The Democratic National Committee could convene before the convention opens on Aug. 19 and change how things will work, but that isn’t likely as long as Biden wants to continue seeking reelection.

The current rules read: “Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.”

VP Kamala Harris couldn’t automatically replace Biden

The vice president is Biden’s running mate, but that doesn’t mean she can swap in for him at the top of the ticket by default. Biden also can’t decree that she replace him should he suddenly decide to leave the race.

The Democratic National Convention is being held in Chicago, but the party has announced that it will hold a virtual roll call to formally nominate Biden before in-person proceedings begin. The exact date for the roll call has not yet been set.

If Biden opts to abandon his reelection campaign, Harris would likely join other top Democratic candidates looking to replace him. But that would probably create a scenario where she and others end up lobbying individual state delegations at the convention for their support.

That hasn’t happened for Democrats since 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson jockeyed for votes during that year’s Democratic convention in Los Angeles.

Other potential Democratic candidates would also face challenges

In addition to the vice president, others who had endorsed Biden in 2024 while harboring their own presidential aspirations for future cycles include California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker, and California Rep. Ro Khanna.

Still others who Biden bested during the party’s 2020 presidential primary could also try again, including Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, as well as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

If Biden were to abruptly leave the race, conservative groups have suggested they will file lawsuits around the country, potentially questioning the legality of the Democratic candidate’s name on the ballot.

But Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, who wrote a book about the presidential nominating process and is also a member of the Democratic National Committee’s rulemaking arm, said that courts have consistently stayed out of political primaries as long as parties running them weren’t doing anything that would contradict other constitutional rights, such as voter suppression based on race.

“This is very clear constitutionally that this is in the party’s purview,” Kamarck said in an interview before the debate. “The business of nominating someone to represent a political party is the business of the political party.”

 President Joe Biden said on Friday he intended to defeat Republican rival Donald Trump in the November presidential election, giving no sign he would consider dropping out of the race after a feeble debate performance that dismayed his fellow Democrats.
"I know I'm not a young man, to state the obvious," an ebullient Biden said at a rally one day after the head-to-head showdown with his Republican rival, which was widely viewed as a defeat for the 81-year-old president.
"I don't walk as easy as I used to, I don't speak as smoothly as I used to, I don't debate as well as I used to," he said, as the crowd chanted "Four more years."
"I would not be running again if I didn't believe with all my heart and soul that I could do this job. The stakes are too high," Biden said.
Biden's verbal stumbles and occasionally meandering responses in the debate heightened voter concerns that he might not be fit to serve another four-year term and prompted some of his fellow Democrats to wonder whether they could replace him as their candidate for the Nov. 5 U.S. election.
Campaign spokesperson Michael Tyler said there were no conversations taking place about that possibility. "We'd rather have one bad night than a candidate with a bad vision for where he wants to take the country," he told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The campaign held an "all hands on deck" meeting on Friday afternoon to reassure staffers that Biden was not dropping out of the race, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Though Trump, 78, put forward a series of falsehoods throughout the debate, the focus afterward was squarely on Biden, especially among Democrats.
Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic Party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, avoided answering directly when asked whether he still had faith in Biden's candidacy.
“I support the ticket. I support the Senate Democratic majority. We're going to do everything possible to take back the House in November. Thank you, everyone,” he told reporters.
Some other Democrats likewise demurred when asked if Biden should stay in the race. "That's the president's decision," Democratic Senator Jack Reed told a local TV station in Rhode Island.
But several of the party's most senior figures, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said they were sticking with Biden.
"Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know. But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and somebody who only cares about himself," former Democratic President Barack Obama wrote on X.
The New York Times editorial board, which endorsed Biden in 2020, called on him to drop out of the race to give the Democratic Party a better chance of beating Trump by picking another candidate. "The greatest public service Mr. Biden can now perform is to announce that he will not continue to run for re-election," the editorial said.
Item 1 of 3 U.S. President Joe Biden gestures during a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., June 28, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
The Biden campaign said it raised $14 million on Thursday and Friday and posted its single best hour of fundraising immediately after the Thursday night debate. The Trump campaign said it raised $8 million on the night of the debate.
One possible bright spot for Biden: preliminary viewership data showed that only 48 million Americans watched the debate, far short of the 73 million who watched the candidates' last face-off in 2020.
Biden, already the oldest American president in history, faced only token opposition during the party's months-long nominating contest, and he has secured enough support to guarantee his spot as the Democratic nominee.
Trump likewise overcame his intra-party challengers early in the year, setting the stage for a long and bitter general election fight.
If Biden were to step aside, the party would have less than two months to pick another nominee at its national convention, which starts on Aug. 19 - a potentially messy process that could pit Kamala Harris, the nation's first Black female vice president, against governors and other officeholders whose names have been floated as possible replacements.


At an afternoon rally in Chesapeake, Virginia, Trump told supporters that he had a "big victory against a man looking to destroy our country."
"Joe Biden's problem is not his age," Trump said. "It's his competence."
Trump advisers said they thought the debate would bolster their chances in Democratic-leaning states like Virginia, which has not backed a Republican presidential candidate since 2004.
Beforehand, some Trump supporters said they were struck by Biden's poor performance. “I’m scared they are going to replace him and put up somebody more competitive,” said Mike Boatman, who said he had attended more than 90 Trump rallies.
Trump fundraisers said they were fielding enthusiastic calls from donors. "Anyone who raises money knows there's a time to go to donors, and this is one of those watershed moments," said Ed McMullen, who served as ambassador to Switzerland during Trump's presidency.
Questions about Trump's fitness for office have also arisen over his conviction last month in New York for covering up a hush money payment to a porn star, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and his chaotic term in office.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11, just days before his party convenes to formally nominate him. He still faces three other criminal indictments, though none appears likely to reach trial before November.
Biden's shaky performance in the debate drew stunned global reactions on Friday, prompting public calls for him to step aside and likely leaving some of America's closest allies steeling for Trump's return.
A group of U.S. voters who were unable to choose between Joe Biden and Donald Trump before Thursday's presidential debate delivered their verdicts after the contest and it was almost universally bad news for Biden.
Of the 13 "undecideds" who spoke to Reuters, 10 described the 81-year-old Democratic president's performance against Republican candidate Trump collectively as feeble, befuddled, embarrassing and difficult to watch.
Gina Gannon, 65, a retiree in the battleground state of Georgia, voted for Trump in 2016 before ditching him for Biden in 2020.
"Joe Biden looked very weak and confused right from the start. It concerns me that our global enemies see Joe Biden in this manner. I was shocked and dismayed. I hate to see our president acting that way on TV and in front of the world," Gannon said.
She added: "I am absolutely voting for Donald Trump now."
Presidential debates typically have limited influence on voters, but Biden and Trump are in a tight race and the election will likely be decided by just thousands of votes in a handful of swing states. Both candidates need to win over the relatively small number of voters who have not yet decided who to vote for.
Biden delivered a shaky, faltering performance while Trump battered him with a series of often false attacks.
Biden's poor showing rattled his fellow Democrats, opened a new tab, and will likely deepen voter concerns that he is too old to serve another four-year term.
Seven of the nine voters who were dismayed by Biden's performance told Reuters they were now leaning towards Trump because they no longer believe Biden can perform his duties as president.
Three of those said they would definitely vote for Trump in his Nov. 5 election rematch with Biden, even though two of them said they do not like the former Republican president.
Meredith Marshall, 51, who lives in the Los Angeles area and is self-employed, said the debate left her in shock.
She voted for Biden in 2020 but is now leaning toward Trump, given what she described as Biden's lack of mental acuity.
Voters gather to watch first presidential debate
Attendees converse ahead of the first presidential debate between U.S. President Joe Biden and former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a watch party hosted by the Michigan Conservative Coalition in Novi, Michigan, U.S., June 27, 2024. REUTERS/Emily Elconin Purchase Licensing Rights, opens a new tab
"God forbid if my choices are as they stand right now based on this debate. Hands down I would vote for a liar and a convict over a person who doesn't seem to be all there mentally."
About 20% of voters say they have not picked a candidate in this year's presidential race, are leaning toward third-party options, or might not vote at all, according to the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Reuters interviewed 15 such voters ahead of Thursday's debate, and they agreed to be interviewed again after the event about whether the debate changed their views.
It was not all bad news for Biden.
Ashley Altum, a 28-year-old mental healthcare manager from South Carolina, had been torn between Biden or a third-party candidate before the debate.
Now she is leaning more towards Biden.
She said she was satisfied with Biden's responses, given he was more willing than Trump to address questions directly.
"I did see Biden slipping up quite a bit, but I'm always surprised more people don't in these situations," she said. "I think that anybody could go up there and speak eloquently is impressive to start with."
Biden pointed out in the debate that Trump, at 78, is only three years younger.
"But Trump was just Trump. From a cognitive decline perspective, I didn't see that in Trump," said Tom Reich, 36, a software engineer from South Carolina.
The issues of age and mental capacity exploded onto the campaign trail in February following a report by a Department of Justice special counsel that suggested Biden was suffering memory lapses.
"What a disaster for the Democrats," Scott Harrington, 63, a fishmonger in Massachusetts, said after watching the debate.
"I was basically undecided but was hoping Biden would have been good enough so I could vote for him. I dislike Trump intensely. I was worried Biden would show he was not up to the job, but he was even worse than I feared. I might just abstain."
Over 51 million TV viewers tuned in to watch Thursday's U.S. presidential debate between Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican rival Donald Trump, according to final Nielsen data.
The number is about 30% lower than the 73 million people who watched the candidates’ first face-off in 2020 and among the three lowest-rated first presidential debates since 1976.
The relatively low number compared to past debates in recent election cycles could be indicative of low voter enthusiasm for both candidates. It does not capture the full extent of online viewing, which has grown in popularity as traditional TV audiences decline.
Media experts were looking to see how a new format by host CNN would play out, and whether it would provide a template for future debates. The restrictions of that format - which included the option for CNN to mute the candidates' microphones - imposed some discipline on the candidates and should be emulated by other networks, three media experts said.
CNN, which held the exclusive rights to present the debate, allowed candidates two minutes for each answer and one minute for rebuttals and muted their microphones if they exceeded those limits. The studio did not have an audience, and moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper did not fact-check the candidates in real time.
CNN defended itself against the criticism from some media commentators that the absence of real-time fact-checking allowed both candidates to spread false claims.
“The role of the moderators is to present the candidates with questions that are important to American voters and to facilitate a debate, enabling candidates to make their case and challenge their opponent,” a CNN spokesperson said in a statement.
Biden delivered a shaky, halting performance while Trump made a series of exaggerated or false claims that mostly went unchecked by his opponent.
“Without having an audience, you got a sense of who these guys are and what they are,” said Frank Sesno, professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and a former CNN journalist.
“You got the sense of Trump the attack dog and Biden as something of the policy wonk and the hesitant old man that you saw standing behind that mic,” Sesno said.
Trump and Biden campaign spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment about the CNN format and hosts' performance.
Trump largely refrained from speaking over Biden during the debate, showing the kind of restraint that eluded him during the candidates' first debate in 2020.
The debate’s format helped “save Trump from some of his worst impulses,” said David Greenberg, professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University, and may have helped the Republican candidate appeal to voters who have been put off by his interruptions in previous debates.
“The producers of debates often forget that the main thing viewers want at a debate is to hear what the candidates have to say,” said Jon Klein, co-founder of Hang Media and the former president of CNN U.S. “They don’t want to see a fight or performance. The mute button went a long way.”
The experts agreed with CNN’s decision not to have moderators fact-check the candidates during the debate, instead providing a fact-check on its websites and after the debate.
“There were a ton of inaccuracies that were left hanging but it would have been a mess to fact-check the debate in real-time,” Sesno said.
CNN provided a feed of its production to other networks and digital outlets, requiring them to use CNN in the programming title and keeping the CNN logo on screen throughout the debate.
The debate ratings figure reflects viewers across 16 networks, including CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.
CNN said that the match-up was its biggest debate ever across its websites, mobile apps, and YouTube player.
The next Biden-Trump debate is scheduled to take place on Sept. 10, hosted by ABC News.
 Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden and his Republican rival Donald Trump took the stage on Thursday night for a debate that offered voters a rare side-by-side look at the two oldest candidates ever to seek the U.S. presidency.
Here are some of the major takeaways:


Viewers learned little news about where both candidates stood on the main issues, but arguably that is not why many tuned in.
The leading question going into the debate was how the two men, both of whom have faced questions about their fitness for the job, would handle themselves on stage.
The early going favored Trump, 78, who appeared forceful and energetic when compared to the 81-year-old Biden, who spoke in a hoarse, halting voice and offered sometimes meandering replies or trailed off during his answers to several questions.
The White House said the president was suffering from a cold, but only after Biden turned in a fitful performance in the opening minutes of the debate.
Trump largely refrained from speaking over Biden, showing the kind of restraint that eluded him during the candidates' first debate in 2020.
For his part, Biden found better footing later as he began to defend his record and tear into Trump's character. But the images that millions of viewers saw and heard, especially during the debate's opening minutes, will likely become fodder for Republican attack ads to fuel the narrative that Biden is too old to hold office.
As the debate progressed, Biden appeared more in command of the facts, in the face of a stream of falsehoods from Trump, but that may not have been enough to overcome concerns among Democrats over his unsteady delivery.
Going into the debate, the pressure on Biden had been to disprove Republican claims that he was slipping because of his age. His campaign will now have to figure out how to recover amid calls among some Democrats for Biden to be replaced as the party's nominee for the Nov. 5 election.


The animosity between the candidates frequently spilled into the open as the two men got personal. Each suggested the other was a criminal.
"The only person on this stage who is a convicted felon is the man I'm looking at right now," Biden said and then accused Trump of having sex with porn star Stormy Daniels.
"You have the morals of an alley cat," Biden said.
The bad blood was on display from the start when they eschewed the traditional handshake and did not acknowledge each other when they walked onto the stage. Biden frequently referred to Trump as "this guy" and chuckled at some of his opponent's more hyperbolic statements.
Near the end of the debate, Biden cast doubt on Trump's true height and weight, suggesting his opponent lied about both. Trump meanwhile boasted of his cognitive and physical health and noted he had won two championships at his golf club.
By contrast, he said, Biden "can't hit the ball 50 yards."
Biden immediately challenged Trump to a golf match, but only if Trump would carry his own bag.
"Let's not act like children," Trump responded.


Both candidates tried to defend their performance on the key issue of the race for voters: the economy.
It is a tricky issue for Biden as an incumbent presiding over the economy at a time when voters are angry over higher food and gas prices.
Biden's approach was to blame Trump. The ex-president, he said, left him a "terrible" economy. He said he was working to bring down inflation.
Trump replied that inflation was "absolutely killing us" and accused Biden of doing nothing.
Voters, right now, seem to be agreeing more with Trump than Biden, with polls showing they favor Trump's handling of the economy. Registered U.S. voters favor Trump on the issue 43% to 37%, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling this month.
Biden's challenge on Thursday was to make clear to viewers that his administration is the one that dug the country out of the pandemic-induced hole.
"There was no inflation when I became president. You know why? The economy was flat on its back," Biden said.


Biden seemed to lose his train of thought while responding to a question about the national debt.
His voice trailing off several times, Biden first referred to "billionaires" as "trillionaires" before correcting himself.
Then, while arguing that the wealthy should pay more tax, he seemed unable to complete his sentence, pausing for an extended awkward moment, before ending his thought in a way that sounded nonsensical.
Tax reform would create money to help "strengthen our healthcare system, making sure that we're able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I was able to do with the, with the COVID, excuse me, with dealing with everything we had to do with," Biden said before pausing.
"We finally beat Medicare," Biden said, likely referring to COVID-19.
Trump pounced.
"He's right. He did beat Medicare. He beat it to death."


Black voters' views - whether excitement, disappointment, or apathy - may help decide the election.
They have voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the past, but both candidates used the debate held in Atlanta, a heavily Black city in the swing state of Georgia, to make their pitch.
"I don't blame (Black voters)," Biden said, "for being disappointed. Inflation is still hurting them badly." But he said he was pushing for first-time home buyer tax credits and student loan forgiveness that could ease their cost of living.
Trump ripped into Biden and said he was picking up support from African-Americans who have been hurt by inflation.
"He lost much of the Black population because he's done a horrible job for Black families," Trump said.

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