USPresidential Election Debate

Biden vows to stay in presidential race despite mounting pressure

Unconvincing debate performance with Donald Trump fails to deter president and campaign team

US president Joe Biden, speaking in North Carolina, has acknowledged his stuttering performance in a recent debate against Donald Trump. Video: Reuters

Joe Biden said on Friday that he was pressing on with his re-election bid despite mounting calls by Democrats for him to bow out after a disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump.

The US president told supporters at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, that he was there for “one reason, because I intend to win this state in November”. The crowd responded with a chant for “four more years”.

US president Joe Biden’s faltering performance spread an immediate sense of alarm through the Democratic Party after the first presidential debate. Video: CNN

In comments that sought to address his poor performance in Thursday’s debate, Mr Biden said: “I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious. I don’t walk as easy as I used to ... I don’t debate as well as I used to.”

He added: “But I know what I do know, I know how to tell the truth ... I know how to do this job ... When you get knocked down you get back up.”

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The president’s comments came as Democrats reported widening panic in the party on Friday after a “disastrous” debate performance, with supporters concluding Mr Biden would struggle to beat Mr Trump at the ballot box in November.

US President Joe Biden speaks to the crowd during a campaign event at the Jim Graham Building at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, 28 June 2024.

Biden-Trump debate: Faltering Biden performance will fuel calls to step aside as crisis looms for DemocratsOpens in new window ]

“The only way it could have been more disastrous was if he had fallen off the stage. Big donors are saying ... he has to go,” one Democratic operative said. “If Biden stays in, we will have to watch him on a trapeze wire until November.”

Top Democratic lawmakers, donors and party insiders were rattled on Thursday night after the president frequently stumbled over his words in the debate, gave rambling answers and in some instances appeared to lose his train of thought.

The debate, which CNN said was watched by 48 million television viewers and streamed by another 30 million, was considered a crucial opportunity for Biden to turn around his faltering re-election campaign, which has been weighed down by concerns about his age and the cost of living. He trails Trump in most national and swing state opinion polls.

Before Thursday’s debate, predictive polling models saw a close race, with FiveThirtyEight calling it a coin toss. But political betting markets moved dramatically against Mr Biden during and after the debate – and a Real Clear Politics average of betting odds on Friday showed Mr Biden with just a 19 per cent chance of winning the presidency.

Biden v Trump debate: What did we learn from much anticipated CNN showdown?Opens in new window ]

The Democratic operative said the easiest path forward for the party would be if Mr Biden’s wife, Jill, or other long-time political advisers in his inner circle convinced him to drop out.

Other Democrats have quietly called for former president Barack Obama or former president Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, the former Democratic presidential nominee, to persuade Mr Biden to step aside.

But Mr Obama squashed suggestions Mr Biden should step aside on Friday in a statement posted to social media.

“Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know. But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself,” Mr Obama said. “Last night didn’t change that.”

Yet behind closed doors, many more remained sceptical.

“There’s lots of gallows humour among Democratic members this morning. The talk about whether Biden continues is fully out in the open,” a Democratic congressman told the Financial Times on Friday morning.

“We need a new nominee,” said another Democratic lawmaker.

A top New York financier said that a small number of influential donors had reached out to Ron Klain and Mike Donilon, two of Mr Biden’s closest long-time advisers, urging the president to do “the right thing for the party and country”.

“Ultimately it will be Jill [Biden] who makes the decision,” said another top financier. “She’s the voice of reason and I can’t imagine she will want to go through four months of this ... Joe will listen to her.”

The Biden team sought to project confidence on Friday, saying the president had raised $14 million on Thursday and Friday morning. It said that the hour after the debate was the single best of grassroots, or small-dollar, fundraising since Mr Biden launched his re-election bid.

After his rally in North Carolina on Friday, the president was set to attend several closed-door meetings with deep-pocketed donors, including a campaign event on Friday night in Manhattan and two on Saturday in the Hamptons and New Jersey.

Mr Trump was set to hold his own rally on Friday in Virginia, a state he lost to Biden by 10 points in 2020 but where the latest opinion polls show the two men in a statistical tie.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024