Biden says pressure on him is being driven by elites. Voters paint a more complicated picture

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — Given her choices in this year’s fast-approaching presidential election, Rochelle Jones believes both major-party candidates should step aside.

“They just need to find someone who can run this country well, who doesn’t have health problems and who cares about us people,” the 39-year-old culinary assistant at Michigan State University said this week.

As President Joe Biden struggles to recover from a disastrous debate performance last month, he has argued that the desire for him to leave the campaign trail is limited to his party’s “elite.” But Jones’ sentiment reflects a more nuanced reality unfolding in some of the most politically competitive states, from Michigan to Pennsylvania to Nevada.

In interviews this week, many voters said they still support Biden. But they also expressed concern that a lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy could lead many Democratic voters to stay home, tipping the race to Republican Donald Trump. Some also worry about the impact Biden’s continued candidacy would have on the lower ballot box, with control of the U.S. House and Senate also at stake.

While Biden has received the most support from Black elected officials in recent days, many Black swing state voters said they were concerned. Jones, who is Black, said she would likely vote for Biden if push came to shove but said he should address inflation, an issue that concerns her most.

The one unifying factor for most Democrats — elites and rank-and-file alike — is the threat of a second Trump term. Biden has long argued that voters will reject Trump if faced with a one-on-one race, regardless of their reservations about the incumbent president.

Voters are growing anxious as Biden fends off public and private pressure to surrender the Democratic nomination and allow the party to field another candidate to run against Trump in November. House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that it is solely “up to the president to decide” whether to stay in the race, Sen. Peter Welch of Vermont called on Biden to withdraw from the election, becoming the first Senate Democrat to do so, and celebrity donor George Clooney also said Biden should not run.

“What I hear most from people of color is, ‘If he doesn’t do it, what’s the alternative?’” said Craig Tatum, a pastor and prominent Black leader in Saginaw, Michigan. He said many people he speaks to have found Biden’s performance troubling but remain committed to voting Democratic after witnessing Trump’s presidency and character.

Saginaw County is a demographic microcosm of Michigan as a whole, and is the only reflection of Michigan to have gone to the winner in the last four presidential elections. The county’s namesake city, with a population of 44,000, is about half black, while surrounding areas are overwhelmingly Republican.

Trump held a narrow lead over Biden in two national polls of voters conducted after the debate. One of the polls — conducted by SSRS for CNN — found that three-quarters of voters, including more than half of Democratic voters, said the party would have a better chance of winning the presidency in November with a candidate other than Biden. About 7 in 10 voters — and 45% of Democrats — said that.

Biden’s physical and mental abilities are a reason to vote against him, according to the CNN/SSRS poll. And about 6 in 10 voters, including about a quarter of Democrats, said re-electing Biden as president in November would be a risky choice for the country rather than a safe one, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll. That poll also found Democrats divided on whether Biden should remain the nominee.

Ethan Williams, who teaches at a summer program in Saginaw, will be 18 before the November election. He said he and his friends who watched the debate were shocked by what they saw.

“We were not thrilled to say the least,” he said.

Williams said he found the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on presidential immunity, Trump’s felony convictions and Trump’s manifesto for a second term, known as Project 2025, particularly alarming. He plans to vote for Biden despite his age, but may focus more on local and state races.

“In terms of the best chance to beat Trump, it would have to be Biden,” he said. “But I don’t like that fact.”

Pamela Pugh, a lifelong Saginaw resident who is running in the Democratic primary for a battleground congressional district in Michigan, pushed back when asked whether Biden should be the Democratic nominee. She said candidates in lower positions like her have to rely on themselves to drive voter turnout and attract voters “who don’t believe that those at the top of the ticket represent them.”

Pugh called Biden’s debate performance “beyond par” and stressed that he has “work to do in our communities” to stay in office for another four years.

Members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus and other Black activists in the Democratic Party have emerged as some of the most forceful advocates for Biden to remain the party’s choice and stay on the ticket. In the 2020 Democratic primaries, Black voters propelled Biden to victories in early primary states, with overwhelming support in South Carolina, on Super Tuesday and in Midwestern states like Michigan.

As long as black and young people vote in droves, Biden will win, said Brian Humphrey, a 62-year-old activist in Pennsylvania who is black. But he worries about younger voters — like his granddaughters, one 18 and one 19 — who won’t be enthusiastic about a man four times their age.

“I’m a little concerned right now, to be honest,” Humphrey said. “You know, because of his age and things and my young grandchildren telling me ‘he’s too old’ and ‘I’m not voting for that old man,’ you know, I’m trying to convince them that he’s the better of the two candidates.”

For Alyse Sobosan, a school counselor in Las Vegas, the unrest over Biden’s performance at the debate is a distraction Democrats don’t need right now.

“It’s a distraction from the campaign and the real issues,” she said. “That’s all anyone can talk about, so I think it makes sense for him to resign.”

Despite the ambivalence and fear among so many Democrats, Biden can count on support ranging from enthusiastic to resigned.

James Johnson, a retired public school teacher in Pennsylvania, said Biden’s performance was “difficult to watch” but “in no way affected my determination to vote for him and see him elected as the next president.”

Teresa Hoover, a Democrat who attended Biden’s speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, agreed.

“He was the chosen candidate and I think we’re just a few months away from that at this point. It’s hard to change the subject,” Hoover said.

Despite all the consternation, the debate did nothing to change the fundamental reality: the candidates are unpopular, and Americans are not enthusiastic about their choices.

“I couldn’t watch the debate because I have a hard time with both candidates,” said Christian Garrett, a 26-year-old summer program manager in Saginaw.

Garrett said he is not sure how he will vote, saying he believes Trump is vindictive and Biden is incapable of continuing his leadership.

“That’s why I think this case has become a joke, because we as Americans have sat by and watched this unfold,” he said. “And it’s almost like we don’t have the power, when in reality the power is with us.”


Cooper reported from Phoenix and Levy from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Associated Press writer Rio Yamat in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Back To Top