Run, Joe, run: Democratic loyalists embrace Biden 2024 plan
By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt
PHILADELPHIA/WASHINGTON, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Establishment Democrats gathered this weekend in Philadelphia have one message for U.S. President Joe Biden as he weighs running for a second term: Run, Joe, run.
"I am looking forward to supporting the president," Sharif Street, head of Pennsylvania's Democratic Party, said at the party's conference in this political battleground state that helped secure Biden's victory against former President Donald Trump in 2020.
"He's done a terrific job and people are excited."
While Biden, 80, is popular among party officialdom, he still faces slumping poll numbers and suggestions that he step aside after decades in politics and make room for a younger generation of leaders.
Biden has said he intends to run for re-election but has not confirmed plans to do so. No strong Democratic challenger to him has declared their candidacy.
As Biden speaks to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) winter conference on Friday, his Republican rivals are emerging from bitter leadership fights at the Republican National Committee and the House of Representatives ahead of what some party leaders expect to be a crowded and bruising presidential primary season.
The Democrats' relatively strong showing at the 2022 midterm elections have them enthusiastic about the president's and the party's prospects as the 2024 election season ramps up.
"It's night and day," boasted Stuart Applebaum, a Democratic committee member and union leader from New York. "What Biden was able to accomplish exceeded expectations." Reuters spoke with around two dozen Democrats attending the event. They were overwhelmingly in favor of Biden running again.
Taking office in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden's term has been marked by the economic scars of the global health crisis, including soaring inflation.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Jan. 19 showed Biden's public approval rating at 40%, close to the lowest level of his presidency amid criticism from Republicans over classified documents found in his home.
Biden this week toured U.S. cities to promote projects funded by the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed in 2021.
At the DNC meeting, members are expected this weekend to overwhelmingly approve a reshaped 2024 primary calendar selected by Biden.
That calendar would oust Iowa from its pole position in presidential nominating contests and put South Carolina first on Feb. 3, 2024, replacing a state that nearly killed Biden's presidential aspirations in 2020 with one whose heavily Black Democratic voters overwhelmingly backed his campaign.
The expected approval shows Biden's grip on the party and would make it even harder for a rival Democrat to mount a campaign to unseat Biden.
Some progressive activists questioned the primary calendar move.
"Joe Biden has repeatedly said he plans to seek renomination," RootsAction political director Sam Rosenthal said. "In case there's a Democratic challenger, it would be simply unethical for the DNC to allow Biden to dictate key rules of the contest, the order of the primaries, before the race begins."
The activists handed out "Don't Run Joe" literature and set up a mobile billboard bearing the words "DON’T MANIPULATE THE PRIMARIES" that circled the hotel housing the conference throughout Thursday and Friday.
An effort by a group of progressive Democrats to get untraceable "dark money" donations out of the party's primary races at the Philadelphia meeting was defeated.
Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, a competitive state Biden won in 2020, said that while there were "no divisive issues" in the party, Democrats needed to do a better job of talking to voters.
"We are not messaging," she said. "I think that's why you see the president hitting the road and boasting about what he's accomplished."
Biden aides have been laying the groundwork for a campaign launch in the coming weeks.
They have largely dismissed suggestions that Democrats need fresh leadership or polls like the Reuters/Ipsos one showing Biden on 40% approval, a figure that matches where Trump was at this stage in his presidency.
Trump has already launched his 2024 campaign but is expected to face a primary challenge, including from his former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley. (Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt Editing by Alistair Bell)