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US elections 2024: Who are the frontrunners to replace Biden if he drops out?

MEE looks at biggest names being floated to replace Biden, and how his age and war on Gaza are impacting voters
Republican presidential candidate, former US President Donald Trump participates in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on 27 June 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Republican presidential candidate, former US President Donald Trump, participates in CNN presidential debate at their studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on 27 June 2024 (Justin Sullivan/AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

US President Joe Biden's reelection campaign is in disarray after a dismal performance in his debate against former President Donald Trump last week led to a media storm calling for him to step aside.

Major US news outlets, even traditional Democratic allies, such as The New York Times and CNN, are calling for Biden to be replaced as the Democratic candidate to face off against Trump in the November election.

Several Democratic politicians have done the same over the past few days, including congressmen Lloyd Dagget and Raul Grijalva.

The major factors for arguments against Biden, 81, have been his age and what is perceived to be cognitive decline, which was evident on the debate stage.

Over the past few months, large swathes of voters have also shown discontent with Biden over the president's policy of supporting Israel's war on Gaza. That support sparked several campaigns, including the Abandon Biden campaign and the Uncommitted campaign.

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There are 29 "uncommitted" delegates heading to the Democratic National Convention in August, where delegates from around the country will officially cast their ballots for the presidential nominee.

Biden has remained adamant he intends to stay on and run for reelection, and a meeting he held with several US governors resulted in those governors offering support to the president.

Still, with four months before the election, a new candidate could arise to replace him. Middle East Eye takes a look at who the frontrunners could be, if that scenario were to happen.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris is an obvious choice to replace Biden, given she is currently second in line in the order of succession for the presidency.

Harris previously ran against Biden in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, where she heavily criticised the current president for his previous stance on opposing the desegregation of busing in public schools.

She soon dropped out of the race and was brought on by Biden to be his running mate as the Democratic candidate for vice president.

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Currently, Harris appears to be the front-runner to replace Biden. Senior sources in the Biden campaign have pegged Harris as the top alternative if the president were to bow out of the race.

Internal polling has also shown she currently has a higher favourability than Biden or any other potential candidate.

Throughout the Israeli war on Gaza, Harris appeared to make an attempt at distancing herself from the Biden administration's full-fledged support of Israel's war efforts.

In March, news reports citing US officials said that the administration had "watered down" a speech she was set to give on Gaza.

In December, Politico reported that Harris was telling colleagues in the White House to show more concern for the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Gretchen Whitmer, the current governor of Michigan, has also been floated as a potential candidate to replace Biden.

Whitmer has publicly said she is supporting Biden and believes he can win her state of Michigan. Whitmer is being touted by pundits as a potential frontrunner for the 2028 election.

The two-term Michigan governor witnessed an attack on the state capitol building in 2020 and led a campaign in 2022 that secured Democratic control in both the gubernatorial and local elections.

Whitmer's state is also home to a large portion of the Arab and Muslim American community, with the city of Dearborn often referred to as being the capital of Arab America.

She has taken a two-side approach to addressing the war on Gaza, saying that "everyone is hurting" at this moment.

Whitmer refrained from calling what is happening in Gaza a genocide, while at the same time attempting to make private outreach to her Arab and Muslim constituents.

California Governor Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newson, the governor of California, has seen his political stock rise in recent years. While pundits have pegged him for a 2028 presidential run, he has also been seen as a suitable candidate to take Biden's place in the election against Trump.

He has been a constant face on major television news networks, joined Pope Francis and gave an address at the Vatican Climate Summit, and his state of California played host to a high-stakes meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

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Newsom appeared on conservative media for a widely viewed debate between him and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

For now, Newsom has been Biden's biggest surrogate this election cycle and has stayed back and supported Biden publicly.

The California governor was also one of several high-profile lawmakers to travel to Israel after it launched its war on Gaza in October. In terms of his approach to policy around the war, Newsom has followed Biden's line, openly calling for a ceasefire in Gaza in March after Biden did the same.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

While the chance of Robert F Kennedy Jr securing the Democratic nomination is near zero, the former environmental lawyer and independent candidate recently said he wants the ticket.

"I think that would be the best choice for everybody and it's certainly something that we would consider," Kennedy Jr told the independent news show, Breaking Points, on Tuesday.

Kennedy Jr previously ran in the Democratic primary election before exiting it and declaring himself an independent candidate.

He is currently polling in double digits in several polls - a relatively high number for a candidate running outside of the two-party system.

He has been attacked by Democrats and labelled a conspiracy theorist by a number of US media outlets.

However, Kennedy Jr has received the largest amount of support for a third-party or independent candidate since Ross Perot in 1992.

On the war on Gaza, a major issue among Democrat voters, Kennedy is not much different from the realm of traditional Democratic politics. He, like Biden, has shown his support for Israel's war efforts since October and has gone even beyond Biden to question why there should be support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.

Given that his campaign has been marketed as anti-war, the support for Israel at this time would pose a major challenge for many American voters who wish to see an end to the conflict in Gaza, where Israel has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians.

Other potentials

Some other names thrown into the ring have been the first-term governors Wes Moore of Maryland and Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, who have both had to navigate high-profile infrastructure catastrophes during their tenure in office.

Another choice is Pete Buttigieg, the current transportation secretary and former 2020 presidential candidate. Buttigieg's name recognition soared after he narrowly won the Iowa caucuses in 2020.

In a CNN poll, Buttigieg garnered 43 percent of prospective voters compared to Trump's 48 percent.

Out of all the possible names, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that Michelle Obama, the former first lady, was the only person in the Democratic Party who would be able to beat Trump in November.

The wife of former President Barack Obama has significant name recognition throughout the US, although she has previously rejected the idea of running and has said she supports the reelection of Biden.

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