• President Joe Biden’s reelection bid has the strong backing of most elected Democrats.

  • But Democrats are fuming after Biden’s disastrous debate performance.

  • In the unlikely event that Biden left the race, an array of Democrats would be in the mix to lead the party.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance has reignited the conversation over whether he should step aside before the November election.

David Axelrod, a former Obama White House senior advisor, immediately sounded the alarm after Biden’s 90-minute faceoff with Trump ended.

“I think there was a sense of shock actually on how he came out at the beginning of this debate,” Axelrod said on CNN.

Axelrod added, “there are going to be discussions about if he should continue.”

Technically, there is still time for Democrats to pick another nominee to take on Trump. There are even ways they could wrestle the nomination away from the president ahead of the August Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Still, Biden is unlikely to leave the race. He has repeatedly said it is fair to question his age but has defended his record. As of now, he remains the only Democrat to have defeated Trump. It may be theoretically possible to force him aside, but the drama of such a move could make the chaotic 1968 convention look quaint.

But who could be a Biden successor if such a scenario were to occur?

Kamala HarrisKamala Harris

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.WOLFGANG RATTAY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images


Gov. Gavin Newsom of California

Joe Biden and Gavin Newsom wearing caps.Joe Biden and Gavin Newsom wearing caps.

President Joe Biden with California Gov. Gavin Newsom during a visit to the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve in Palo Alto, California, in June.AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor who was also California’s lieutenant governor, leads the most populated state in the country and, in recent years, has become one of Biden’s most prominent Democratic surrogates.

In the immediate aftermath of the debate, Newsom questioned Democrats who jettison Biden over a bad night.

“You don’t turn your back because of one performance,” Newsom said on MSNBC where he was representing the Biden campaign. “What kind of party does that?”

California is often used as a foil by national Republicans to contrast with the conservative policies of states such as Florida and Texas. But Newsom has been outspoken in not only promoting the Golden State but touting Democratic policy stances and legislative wins — and he’s not afraid to take his arguments straight to the GOP.

As governor, Newsom has taken on more moderate stances in recent years on issues involving labor and tackling homelessness in his state.

Newsom’s political trajectory could collide with that of Harris, his fellow Bay Area native, but they’ve long maintained a strong working relationship, and the governor has been highly complimentary of her work with Biden.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan

Gretchen WhitmerGretchen Whitmer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan at the Riga Castle in Riga, Latvia.Gints Ivuskans/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the two-term governor of battleground Michigan, is accustomed to tough political fights. And over the course of her governorship, she has won a lot of those battles: Democrats in recent years have performed strongly in the Wolverine State, holding every top statewide office and flipping control of the state legislature in the 2022 midterm elections.

When Whitmer ran for reelection in 2022 against the Republican Tudor Dixon, she won by nearly 11 points, reflective of her broad appeal with the electorate in a state where the margins are often tight.

This fall, Michigan is expected to be one of the closest states in the country in the presidential race. And Whitmer, a former state lawmaker and ex-prosecutor, is set to be a critical voice for the Biden campaign across Michigan.

The governor has encouraged Biden to speak more forcefully about abortion rights, an issue that has galvanized many voters — but especially women — across the country after Roe was overturned.

In a potential field without Biden, Whitmer’s Midwestern background, strong alliance with organized labor, and moderate appeal could make her a strong contender. But she would also be a new face in a contest that will probably feature Trump on the GOP side.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota

Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar

Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Capitol Hill.Samuel Corum/Pool/AFP

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who’s served in the Senate since 2007, ran for president in 2020 and made a surprisingly strong finish in the New Hampshire primary — even outperforming Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at the time.

But her campaign wasn’t able to get the sort of momentum it needed in the South Carolina primary for her to continue her bid, and she exited the race.

Still, Klobuchar would be a candidate to watch in an open field, as she boosted her national presence in the primary and could point to a long-standing record of bipartisan accomplishments representing Minnesota in the Senate.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey

Cory BookerCory Booker

Cory Booker has served in the Senate since 2013.Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Cory Booker also ran for president in 2020, ending his campaign in January that year.

But the former Newark mayor has been a national figure for years and is seen as a likely 2028 contender.

He could easily jump-start a potential 2028 campaign in South Carolina, as he campaigned throughout the state in 2019 and 2020.

In the scenario that Democrats would have to choose a candidate other than Biden, he would probably be a part of the conversation.

Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina

Roy CooperRoy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at an event with Biden in Greensboro, North Carolina, in April 2022.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Gov. Roy Cooper isn’t a big name among Democratic voters outside North Carolina, at least not yet. The former state lawmaker, onetime North Carolina attorney general, and current two-term governor rose through the ranks of government and, along the way, navigated political divides that would bedevil most politicians.

In a GOP-leaning state where Democratic candidates have to compete on tricky terrain, Cooper, a moderate, has come out on top.

Democrats have not tapped a Southern governor as their presidential nominee since Bill Clinton in 1992. Looking to the future, probably in 2028, Cooper is someone who’s poised to be on the minds of many in the party.

Gov. Wes Moore of Maryland

Wes MooreWes Moore

Gov. Wes Moore is a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Gov. Wes Moore, an Army veteran who’s also a Rhodes Scholar, was first elected to the governorship in 2022. He has focused heavily on tackling issues such as child poverty and housing affordability, two of the most vexing public-policy challenges for leaders on both the state and federal levels.

One of Moore’s major pushes is to reshape how patriotism is defined in politics, as he told Business Insider during his first gubernatorial campaign that one party or movement couldn’t claim the idea as their own.

“I refuse to let anybody try to wrestle that away,” Moore told BI in an October 2022 interview, “or claim that they have a higher stake or some higher claim to it than I or my family or people who I served with or my community members.”

The governor, seen by many as a potential 2028 contender, has been a strong political ally of both Biden and Harris.

While Moore may be relatively new to elective politics, his profile only continues to grow within the Democratic Party.

Correction: February 23, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated one of President Joe Biden’s arguments for why he should be reelected. He has touted low national unemployment numbers, not low national employment numbers.

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