Biden, in Wisconsin, defies calls to drop out: “I’m going to win again”

President Biden had a message on Friday for Democrats and others who are calling on him to drop his reelection bid after last week’s debate: “I am going to run and I’m going to win again.”

Speaking to supporters in the battleground state of Wisconsin on Friday, the president reiterated that he won’t be forced out as the Democratic presidential nominee amid a chorus of criticism and concern sparked by his startling debate performance. After a week of working to assuage concerns about his fitness for a second term, Mr. Biden stood his ground. 

“Now, you probably heard we had a little debate last week,” the president said after taking the stage in Madison. “Can’t say it was my best performance. But ever since then, there’s been a lot of speculation. What’s Joe going to do? Is he going to stay in the race? Is he going to drop out, what’s he going to do? Well, here’s my answer: I am going to run and I’m going to win again.”

The president cited the results of the primary process, which was tightly controlled by the Democratic Party and featured no serious challengers to his renomination.

“I’m the nominee of the Democratic Party,” the president said. “You voted for me to be your nominee, no one else. You, the voters, did that. And despite that, some folks don’t seem to care who you voted for. Well, guess what: they’re trying to push me out of the race. Well, let me say this as clearly as I can: I’m staying in the race.”

President Biden speaks during a campaign event in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 5, 2024.
President Biden speaks during a campaign event in Madison, Wisconsin, on July 5, 2024. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Despite his much stronger voice compared to last week’s debate, the president still fumbled.

“I’m staying in the race. I’ll beat Donald Trump. I will beat him again in 2020,” the president said, before realizing his error and correcting himself to say “2024.”

Behind the president, among the group of energetic supporters holding signs was one young man with a sign that read, “Pass the torch, Joe.” Someone else in the stands covered up his sign, and the young man crumpled it. 

A crucial stretch for Biden

Mr. Biden’s public appearances are under renewed scrutiny following his halting debate performance against former President Donald Trump, and the rally in Wisconsin kicked off what could be a critical weekend for his hopes to reassure Democrats that he can stay in the race.

In Wisconsin, Mr. Biden is taping an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, which will air in full Friday night. The president will also head to Philadelphia for another campaign event on Sunday, capping the July 4 holiday weekend with a visit to a second battleground state.

Democrats who spoke before the president in Madison alluded to the challenging political environment. 

“What a week,” said Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party. “What a week. First, let’s acknowledge it — rough debate. One guy needed a lozenge, the other guy needed a lie detector and a conscience and a reminder that he’s not running for dictator of North Korea.” 

“It’s going to come down to a few states, and Wisconsin is one of those states,” Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan said. “And don’t think for a second that this is going to be easy. Just in the last week, some say that the snow globe of the election has been shaken. But you know what hasn’t been shaken? The resolve of the people.” 

In a pair of radio interviews that aired Thursday, Mr. Biden admitted he had a “bad debate” and that he “screwed up.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign and the White House sought to brush off concerns about his lackluster performance by insisting he had a cold and that the debate fiasco was simply a “bad night.” As part of efforts to quiet concerns about Mr. Biden and his age, he and Vice President Kamala Harris participated in a call with campaign staff on Wednesday, and they met with 20 Democratic governors at the White House later that evening. Mr. Biden also spoke with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, as well as other key allies on Capitol Hill.

One of the governors who attended the White House meeting, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, praised Mr. Biden for his work over the last four years and reiterated that she is committed to defeating Trump in November. But Healey also urged the president to examine the path forward, while stopping short of saying he should step aside.

“The best way forward right now is a decision for the president to make,” she said in a statement. “Over the coming days, I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump.”

The president has maintained the same message throughout the outreach, according to participants: he is in the race to defeat Trump and will not be pushed out.

“I learned from my father, when you get knocked down, just get back up, get back up,” Mr. Biden told “The Earl Ingram Show,” which airs in Wisconsin, in the radio interview Thursday. “And you know we’re going to win this election, we’re going to just beat Donald Trump.”

Amid the assurances, a handful of House Democrats have openly called on Mr. Biden to withdraw from the presidential race, including Reps. Lloyd Doggett of Texas and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona. Others, meanwhile, have publicly urged the president to take steps to prove to voters, elected Democrats and party donors that he is fit for a second term in the White House.

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