Assurances that President Joe Biden will seek reelection in 2024 have done little to silence speculation among Democrats over his potential successor.

For now, the White House asserts the president will seek a second term.

“That’s his intention,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters this week. But Biden, who turned 79 last week, is already the oldest person to serve as commander in chief.

The dynamic has amplified scrutiny of his vice president, Kamala Harris, the first black woman in the role, and chatter about her and other former rivals’ prospects should Biden choose to step aside.

Most visible among the contenders is former South Bend mayor-turned-Cabinet secretary Pete Buttigieg, who leads Biden’s Transportation Department and has shouldered the task of promoting the White House’s infrastructure and reconciliation bills with a near omnipresence on television.


Aides to Harris have pointed to her efforts to sell the bill at events around the country and on calls with lawmakers, but polls show Buttigieg at her heels. His high name recognition, 83% and the highest of any Biden official besides Biden and Harris, according to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll, shows the hurdles ahead for other potential competitors.

Neither Harris nor Buttigieg is taking the bait.

Harris has studiously avoided talk of succeeding Biden, pivoting to the administration’s agenda when asked, for instance, about what she had learned during a foreign trip that could prepare her for the top job. Buttigieg likewise says the prospect isn’t on his mind.

And while a former Harris campaign aide called the speculation “a bizarre parlor game,” inside the West Wing, a Buttigieg-led ticket in 2028, or perhaps sooner, is, among some aides, an “open” topic of discussion, according to Politico.

“Nobody in the West Wing shuts that down,” a source with direct knowledge of the back-and-forth told the outlet. “It’s very open.”

Harris supporters and some Democrats have voiced frustration over her role in the administration, including the politically fraught task of stemming Central American migration to the southern U.S. border amid a record surge in illegal crossings.

The “political hand grenade” proved an early messaging challenge for Harris, as her office insisted that she was “not doing the border.”

More recently, supporters have said they don’t see her enough, a perception her staff has attempted to refute.

Harris also joined Biden and top aides in the West Wing war room this month for the final round of phone calls to lawmakers as the White House attempted to close a deal over the president’s infrastructure bill. A CNN report suggested her appearance stood out — but not for the right reasons.

“While she had attended some meetings Biden hosted with key lawmakers, there were many more that she didn't attend — to the point that it was noteworthy that she made an unscheduled drop-by one session in the final stretch,“ the authors said.

The vice president’s “deployment raises questions about whether Biden’s folks have full confidence in her,” a source in House leadership told the Washington Examiner. He attributed this to a “top-down” dynamic.

In public appearances, the vice president appears guarded or scripted, some said, mirroring a similar dynamic during the presidential primary.

“Put her out in black churches and senior centers across the country,” the leadership aide said. “She needs to be the ‘grassroots face’ of the administration.”

Buttigieg, for his part, struggled wildly with black voters during the primary race but has sought to rectify this. Recently, the transportation secretary argued that he would use some $1 billion from Biden's infrastructure bill to redress racial inequalities in highway design.

Whether Harris or Buttigieg could carry a winning presidential ticket is still an open question, but the speculation is more notable for emerging from inside a tightly held White House.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump has continued to stoke murmurs that he may seek a second term, with Democratic operatives saying that Biden’s bid for a second term is virtually assured if Trump runs again.

But whether Biden can again convince voters that he can best steward the country isn’t clear.

A new NPR/Marist survey shows Biden’s approval sinking to 42%, the lowest share recorded by the poll since he took office and down 12 percentage points since April. And recent polling commissioned by Trump’s Make America Great Again, Again super PAC shows the former president leading against Biden in states Trump won in 2016 and Biden flipped in 2020.

Biden led most national polls in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, running ahead of his Democratic primary rivals even as he encountered sizable road bumps along the way, including in Iowa and New Hampshire. The exception to Biden’s polling advantage was Bernie Sanders, who bested Biden in more than two dozen national polls, garnering significant momentum in the lead up to the Nevada caucuses, where the Vermont senator secured a commanding win.

But overall, Biden consistently beat out Trump in general election matchups, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls, with better margins than Sanders.

And while Biden’s Election Day victory was narrower than polls suggested, it bolstered his belief that he alone could carry Democrats over the finish line.

“He ran because he felt like he was the only person who could beat Trump and restore normalcy,” a Democratic Party official told the Washington Examiner. “Do people think he would give up on that just because of bad poll numbers?”

But it’s not just Biden’s job approval numbers that have suffered since Democrats took power.

At the state level, Democrats’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic, including school and business closures, have soured voters who cast their ballots for Biden last year.

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s surprise victory in the November Virginia governor’s race is one example of this. Biden voters who swung for Youngkin, or considered doing so, said they were unhappy with the country’s direction and “aren’t hearing solutions” from Democrats, according to a summary of post-election focus groups.

“Voters think we are focused on social issues, not the economy,” the report said. “They aren’t hearing us talk about the economy enough, and the things they are hearing about our agenda ... don’t have to do with getting people back to work or taking on the cost of goods. That’s deadly in an environment when it’s the top issue.”

Moreover, new state polling shows a shifting dynamic in five Trump 2016 and Biden 2020 states, including on a slew of issues plaguing the president.

Biden’s wins in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were decided by margins of less than 3 percentage points. The Republican former president now leads among likely 2024 voters in each of them, including by double digits in Michigan and Wisconsin, according to polling conducted by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates for Trump’s Make America Great Again Committee and obtained by Politico.

Trump leads the matchup in Michigan by 12 percentage points, Wisconsin by 10 points, Arizona by 8 points, Georgia by 3 points, and Pennsylvania by 6 points. All but Georgia fell outside the margin of error.

On controlling inflation, Trump leads by double digits in each state, with a 25-percentage-point advantage in Wisconsin.

The poll of 600 registered voters was conducted between Nov. 11-16 with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Given the challenging landscape for Democrats, some wonder why the West Wing hasn’t better leveraged the vice president outside of tasking her with intractable issues.

Biden praised Harris's role after the infrastructure bill passed, pointing to her in his remarks and saying, “A lot of this has to do with this lady right here, the vice president.”

The House leadership aide said while the White House has lent Harris some “fixer-upper” moments, these are in short supply. “[That they are] then withdrawn as fast as given doesn't help.”


Psaki sidestepped a recent question over whether Biden would lend his vice president an automatic endorsement should she enter the race.

“I don’t have any predictions of whether she will run, when she will run — I will leave that to her,” she told reporters and called Harris “a key partner” and “bold leader.”

Buttigieg has one major advantage, according to the Politico/Morning Consult poll: a higher net favorability rating than either Biden or Harris, each of whom is underwater at minus 6 percentage points and minus 12 points, respectively. Buttigieg, by contrast, has a plus-10-point lead.