The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden announces 2024 reelection bid, saying he wants to ‘finish the job’

President formalizes his intent to seek another term, setting the stage for a tumultuous election

President Biden during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
13 min

President Biden officially announced his bid for reelection Tuesday morning, saying in a solemn launch video that he wants to “finish the job” he started when the country was besieged by a deadly pandemic, a reeling economy and a teetering democracy.

Claiming that his presidency has pulled the country back from the brink on all those fronts, Biden underlined his ambition to turn what he had once pitched as a transitional presidency into something far more transformational.

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“The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom, more rights or fewer,” Biden said in the video. “I know what I want the answer to be. This is not a time to be complacent. That’s why I’m running for reelection.”

For Biden, 80, the announcement marks a pivotal moment in a political career that has spanned a half-century. The decision may defy the wishes of some Democratic voters clamoring for a different standard-bearer — one who is younger, more progressive and more reflective of the party’s diversity — but it also underscores Biden’s strength among party leaders, including those who believe he has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump or another Republican.

The 2024 race is expected to be the final campaign for a figure who has run seven races for the U.S. Senate and sought the presidency or vice presidency four times. It will shape the legacy of a man who rose from a county council in Delaware to become one of the youngest U.S. senators in history, a partner to the country’s first Black president — and ultimately the nation’s 46th president as a pandemic swept the country.

Beyond that, Biden’s announcement moves the United States one step closer to what will likely be a tumultuous 2024 presidential campaign, as former president Trump pushes for a rematch with Biden after more than two years of falsely claiming he was the true winner in 2020. Trump has already announced his own candidacy and begun exchanging barbs with other Republican hopefuls.

As for Biden, polls suggest few Democrats are enthusiastic about the notion of his running again, but many believe he may be their best bet for keeping the White House.

President Biden officially announces his reelection bid for the White House. (Video: Lindsey Sitz/The Washington Post, Photo: Biden campaign video/The Washington Post)

Inside the final days before Biden's announcement

Even with Tuesday’s announcement, Biden is expected to hold few explicitly campaign-style events in the near future, as his aides hope that he can remain above the political fray during a hard-fought GOP primary. But he may face rocky political terrain in the coming months nonetheless as he heads into a bitter fight with Republicans over the government’s debt limit, as the Justice Department wraps up a criminal investigation of his son Hunter and as the president himself confronts a probe into classified documents found among his personal belongings.

An official speech to union leaders on Tuesday afternoon took on much of the feel of a campaign event as Biden contrasted his record with Trump’s, made promises for what a second term would entail and paused to revel in the crowd’s chants of “four more years!”

“We had to fight like hell, folks. We made a lot of progress because of all of you,” Biden said. “But there’s more to do. So let’s finish the job.”

Biden has not run a robust national campaign in years, since much of his campaigning in 2020 was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans are already comparing Biden to former president Jimmy Carter, who was ousted after one term amid high inflation and global turbulence. Biden’s allies, in contrast, have tried to characterize him as the most effective president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, citing Biden’s success in pushing through legislation on climate change, economic relief, prescription drugs, infrastructure and other matters, as well as his ability to rally a global coalition against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Despite these accomplishments, polls suggest Biden could face a tough battle in his bid for a second term. Most Americans say the country is on the wrong track, and few believe their fortunes have improved during his presidency. Biden’s aides and allies contend those numbers will improve as Americans begin to see his policies implemented, but Republicans argue the numbers reflect his failure to improve the economy or reduce crime.

The president could also benefit from contrasting his approach with a Republican field that has been remade in Trump’s combative image, said Biden aides, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy.

“Every generation of Americans has faced a moment when they’ve had to defend democracy, stand up for our personal freedoms, and stand up for our right to vote and our civil rights,” Biden said in his launch video, which began with scenes from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. “This is ours. Let’s finish the job.”

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, was quick to fire back. “Biden is so out-of-touch that after creating crisis after crisis, he thinks he deserves another four years,” McDaniel said in a statement after Biden’s video was released. “If voters let Biden ‘finish the job,’ inflation will continue to skyrocket, crime rates will rise, more fentanyl will cross our open borders, children will continue to be left behind and American families will be worse off.”

Biden’s central campaign themes have been on display for months as he has traveled the country touting his economic accomplishments and blasting the Republicans who took control of the House in January. They often amount to an argument that he gets things done for ordinary Americans, while “MAGA Republicans” are extremists who veer toward authoritarianism.

In an immediate example of the split screen that Democrats hope plays in their favor, Tuesday marked the beginning of Trump’s civil trial for rape and defamation allegations. If Trump emerges as the Republican nominee, he may find himself appearing as a defendant in several criminal trials while campaigning for president.

Even before his announcement, Biden’s events resembled modest campaign events, with union workers in bright-colored vests forming a blue-collar backdrop. His speeches typically include recitations of the positive economic data points of his presidency — record job growth, expanded manufacturing, new small businesses — as well as populist messaging about the futility of trickle-down economics.

“The middle class built this country,” he often says. “And unions built the middle class!”

Aides say the president plans to emphasize those messages while increasing his travel around the country in the coming months.

Democrats believe the president’s path to reelection likely runs through the same narrow set of competitive states where he bested Trump in 2020 — Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia and Pennsylvania. While Democratic strategists say the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning abortion rights has buoyed their prospects, they recognize that they face serious struggles in attracting rural voters and those without college degrees.

To win in 2024, Biden will need to maintain unified support from a diverse coalition of Democratic voters, including liberals who have at times been disappointed by his centrist positions, party strategists said. He will also need to win over moderates who have voted for Republicans in the past, including suburban women and college-educated voters who were turned off by Trump’s presidency.

Biden enlists potential rivals as advisers

As Biden barnstorms the country, he is expected to aim increasingly sharp barbs at his Republican detractors, targeting not only congressional lawmakers but also the party’s presidential candidates as they compete for votes in a primary dominated by the GOP’s base voters. He is also expected to warn of the dangers of returning Trump, who continues to lead in polls of Republican voters, to the White House.

Republicans hope to use their narrow House majority to frustrate Biden’s campaign and tarnish his brand as a drama-free elder statesman, wagering he will pay a price for any dysfunction in Washington. “Biden’s advantage is that he’s viewed more favorably than Donald Trump. His brand is less toxic,” said Bryan Lanza, a GOP strategist who advised Trump’s 2016 campaign. “If Republicans are going to dislodge him from the White House, they have to go after that brand.”

Lanza said Republicans are also likely to highlight Biden’s age and his failure to unite the country after promising to do so. Since shortly after he took office, the GOP has sought to portray him as a president who is in over his head and has let the country descend into chaos.

Like his predecessors, Biden will now have to balance his role as president and as a candidate. Already his official presidential trips often take him to political swing states. White House officials are expected to play a central role in crafting his message and countering attacks on his agenda, but they must tread carefully because of the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from using their taxpayer-funded positions to engage in campaigning.

Partisan battles — including over the debt limit, immigration, government spending, mass shootings and crime — are likely to take on an even more political tone as Republicans seek to highlight controversies in the Biden administration.

Aides said Biden delayed his announcement of a reelection bid, which was initially expected earlier in the year, in part because he wanted to continue governing without having his actions viewed through a strictly partisan lens. But the timing also reflected delays in making major decisions about his campaign, including selecting his campaign leadership.

Biden announced that Julie Chavez Rodriguez, a senior adviser in the White House, will manage the campaign, and Quentin Fulks, who oversaw Sen. Raphael G. Warnock’s reelection campaign in Georgia, will serve as principal deputy campaign manager.

The president also announced a slate of national co-chairs for the campaign: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D); Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.); Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.); and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a Hollywood mogul and major Democratic donor.

Even as the campaign structure emerges, much of the political nerve center around the president will be operating out of the White House, officials said, where the president’s 2020 campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, and several long-standing aides continue to work in official positions.

Polls and interviews with voters show that Biden faces a significant challenge in persuading Americans to give him four more years.

Across eight national polls in 2022 and 2023, an average of 38 percent of Democrats said they wanted Biden to be the party’s presidential nominee in 2024, while 57 percent wanted to nominate someone else. During Trump’s first term, an average of 73 percent of Republicans wanted the GOP to renominate him, and an average of 75 percent of Democrats wanted to renominate Barack Obama during his first presidential term.

Voters tell pollsters that Biden’s advanced age is a main concern. Biden, who would be 82 at the beginning of a second term and 86 at its conclusion, is in uncharted territory in asking Americans to give him another four years in office. The previous oldest president was Ronald Reagan, who left office at 77.

Trump is 76 and would be 82 at the end of a second term.

In 2020, Biden promised to be a “bridge” to the next generation of political leaders, which some Democrats interpreted as a sign that he would step down after one term. With Tuesday’s announcement, he has made clear that he plans to sit atop an increasingly young and diverse party for another six years — meaning leaders such as Whitmer and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore must wait that much longer.

Democrats lukewarm on Biden but see no alternative

Biden’s age could also turn an even brighter spotlight on Vice President Harris, who has struggled to gain political traction during her time as Biden’s second-in-command.

In subtle and direct ways, Republicans have tried to capitalize on the issue by presenting Biden as feeble and highlighting his verbal or physical missteps. “America is not past our prime. It’s just that our politicians are past theirs,” former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley said in February when announcing her own bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Still, Republicans face their own challenges. Trump, who leads the GOP field by a wide margin, is bitterly disliked by much of the electorate, and he has already begun lashing out at other Republicans weighing presidential runs, notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

And Biden has won support from Democrats with his legislative success, said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist.

“If you had your druthers, would you prefer the candidate of your choice to not be in direct competition with actuarial charts? Sure,” Payne said. “But the package that Joe Biden is in is the package that he’s in. And I actually don’t think it’s a new piece of data. It’s not like voters elected a young man and then three years later he’s old, right?”

Biden, who often says “watch me,” in response to questions about his age, plans to continue traveling the country and holding events to allow voters to see him in action. White House officials have also pointed to Biden’s travel schedule — which at times has been more busy than previous, younger presidents — as evidence of his vitality.

Trump has also faced questions over his age and mental acuity — raising the prospect of a battle between two senior citizens over their physical and mental capacity to lead the country.

Some analysts said Biden is benefiting from Democrats’ uncertainty about who, if anyone, would have a better chance of keeping Trump from a second term.

“In the absence of a clearly established successor who could guarantee a Democratic victory, the president sees himself as the main barrier between Donald Trump and the White House, notwithstanding polling numbers that suggest his own weakness,” said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “If President Biden does get reelected, he automatically enters the conversation about the most consequential presidents.”

Election 2024

Get live updates on the 2024 presidential election from our reporters in Washington and on the campaign trail.

Who is running? Top contenders for the GOP 2024 nomination include former president Donald Trump and former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced he was dropping out just ahead of the New Hampshire primary. For the Democrats, President Biden is running for reelection in 2024. Here is The Post’s ranking of the top 10 Republican presidential candidates for 2024 and the top 10 Democratic candidates.

Republican delegate count: GOP candidates for president compete to earn enough delegates to secure their party’s nomination. We’re tracking the Republican 2024 delegate count.

Key issues: Compare where the 2024 presidential candidates stand on key issues like abortion, climate and the economy.

Key dates and events: From January to June, voters in all states and territories will pick their party’s nominee for president ahead of the summer conventions. Here are key dates and events on the 2024 election calendar.