‘The stakes are too high’: Local Dems weigh Biden candidacy after debate disappointment

Joe Biden walks down Main Street in Concord after campaigning with voters at The Works downtown on May 14, 2019. He was with Sylvia Larsen, left, Steve Shurtleff, back, and former Gov. John Lynch, right.

Joe Biden walks down Main Street in Concord after campaigning with voters at The Works downtown on May 14, 2019. He was with Sylvia Larsen, left, Steve Shurtleff, back, and former Gov. John Lynch, right. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

Paul Seavey sees this election as a choice between “good and evil.” He wasn’t sure what, but he said that, after Biden’s weak performance in a debate against Trump Thursday that the Democratic Party must “do something.”

Paul Seavey sees this election as a choice between “good and evil.” He wasn’t sure what, but he said that, after Biden’s weak performance in a debate against Trump Thursday that the Democratic Party must “do something.” Catherine McLaughlin / Monitor staff

By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN

Monitor staff

Published: 06-28-2024 4:48 PM

Modified: 06-29-2024 4:00 PM


Steve Shurtleff dreads the thought of clips of Joe Biden’s raspy, meandering answers during Thursday night’s debate looping through Trump campaign ads.

Because of the strength of Biden’s record — both before and during his administration — Shurtleff worries the president will tarnish his legacy by not bowing out when it’s clearly time. He referenced the late California Senator Dianne Feinstein as a cautionary tale.

“Fifty years of public service, I just hate to see him go out under a cloud,” Shurtleff said. “He deserves better.”

Shurtleff, a longtime state representative and Democratic party leader in New Hampshire, said Friday that Biden ought to withdraw from the campaign.

“I think he and those near and dear to him need to do a lot of soul searching,” Shurtleff said. “For his own good — but, more importantly, for the good of the country — he should think about stepping down.”

The idea that Biden is a candidate that voters of varying political stripes who can’t stomach former President Donald Trump will rally behind was the defining feature of his 2020 campaign. Throughout the 2024 primary season, when challenged about Biden’s age and strength as a candidate, Democrats asserted that was still true: all the president needed to do was stand on his record.

Shurtleff agrees with his party’s argument that Trump puts American Democracy at risk. But, from what he saw, Biden showed on the debate stage — untethered from a teleprompter — that he can no longer claim to be the best person to beat him.

“The president asked for this debate,” Shurtleff said. “There’s so many things that Donald Trump said that we all know were untrue. But the president didn’t seem to have the ability to question him about that, and to state the facts as they are and as we know they are.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

A Concord encampment story went viral. Those living there say there’s nowhere else to go
‘He was so special and unique’ – Bow family remembers Eddie Berke, 31, after Maine boating accident
Eight-year-old killed in head-on crash on Route 106 in Loudon
Motorcyclist in critical condition after crash in Epsom
‘She was valiant’ – Friends and family to gather Saturday to celebrate Concord’s Hope Butterworth
‘You have to give them someplace to go’ – A Concord homeowner has an encampment in her yard. Nationwide, cities are issuing permanent camping bans.

In the hours after the first debate either candidate has participated in since 2020, the future of Biden’s candidacy became mired in uncertainty. Party leaders and the campaign did damage control, pointing to the numerous false claims made by Trump during the debate about both his and Biden’s record and saying the president’s hoarseness was the result of a cold.

Many Biden supporters on the streets of Concord shared concern with the president’s performance and a belief that Trump poses a threat to American democracy. But they stopped short of saying he should step down.

“It’s a shame. Joe is a good man; he’s done a good job,” said Paul Seavey, a registered and committed Democrat. “But Trump ate him alive with his bullying and lies.”

With Biden’s weak debate performance — both missing opportunities to pounce on falsehoods voiced by Trump and unable to make a compelling case for himself — Seavey said, multiple times, “they’ve got to do something.” By “they,” he meant the Democratic Party.

He talks about Donald Trump in grave terms.

Seavey sometimes thinks he’s lucky to be 70, approaching the later years of his life: his seven grandchildren will have to live with the consequences of Trump’s “moral depravity” for their entire lives. Thursday night’s presidential debate only darkened his outlook.

Nevertheless, he said, “I wouldn’t say he should step down. I still think, somehow, the Democrats can pull it off.”

Marilyn Belanger, an independent who supports Biden, doesn’t consider herself a particularly political person, but she watches the news and morning talk shows. She was watching Friday morning when they swirled with questions about what the debate meant for the president’s re-election effort.

Belanger is no fan of Trump — not since his days hosting “The Apprentice.” She described his debate performance as a constant stream of lies.

Her expectations for Biden, especially after his rousing State of the Union speech, were dashed. But she was nevertheless skeptical of the idea of naming a new candidate.

“I don’t even know who they could pick, at this point,” she said. Naming a new candidate now, she feared, would be an even riskier play, a validation of Trump and his supporters’ statements about Biden’s age.

Shurtleff knows the prospect of finding a new candidate is daunting and complicated, and that an open convention would be confusing. But he believes it may be necessary.

“There’s a lot of confusion right now — and I think the only one that can really help us get through that is the president by what decision he makes,” Shurtleff said. “Whatever decision he makes, I hope it gets done in the next week or so.”

At a speech in North Carolina Friday, Biden showed no signs of reconsidering.

“I may not debate as well as I used to,” he said. “But I know what I do know, I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong. I know how to do this job and I know how to get things done. and I know — like millions of Americans know — when you get knocked down, you get back up.”

“I would not be running again if I did not believe with all of my heart and soul: I can do this job. The stakes are too high.”

Catherine McLaughlin can be contacted at cmclaughlin@cmonitor.com.