How Biden’s shaky debate is sitting with NH Democrats

Supporters of President Biden prepare to march in Amherst during the July 4th parade.

Supporters of President Biden prepare to march in Amherst during the July 4th parade. TODD BOOKMAN—NHPR

By JOSH ROGERS

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 07-08-2024 11:30 AM

July Fourth is a time when Americans think about their country – its past and future. This Independence Day, plenty of New Hampshire Democrats were also thinking about President Joe Biden and his future leading the country, following his shaky performance during his first 2024 debate with former President Donald Trump last week.

“He’s got a lot of good people around him, even if he slips,” said Patti Felton, a longtime Amherst resident who was taking in the town’s annual parade from under the brim of an anti-Trump baseball cap that read “Make Lying Wrong Again.” Felton stressed she’s hoping for the best for the president, and believes that many Democrats’ fear of putting Trump back in the White House could end up being enough for Biden to win. But as she gestured toward a nearby Trump campaign sign, she admitted that Biden’s frailty has her scared.

“I’m afraid – but more afraid of that guy,” she said, referencing Trump, “than the old guy.”

Nearby, Martin Goulet, who leads the Amherst Democrats, was cutting into a watermelon on the town green.

“You are always anxious when you see the polls as narrow as they are, and you want to see them going in the other direction,” he said. But he was quick to dispel any notion that he was looking to throw his support elsewhere: “Biden is the candidate, so we are going to get behind him 100 percent.”

As a practical matter, that’s very much what the Biden campaign is hoping for. Following last week’s debate, the president and his reelection team have been working hard to reassure Democratic party regulars that he is in this race to the end.

To defeat Trump, though, Biden will likely also need the support of less partisan voters, like Dan Leonard. He was a registered Democrat for years but recently went independent. He doesn't like Trump, but also thinks Biden is simply too old to be president, and has been for some time.

“I don’t think he had it four years ago,” Leonard said. “The president’s office is a hard office even for a 40-year-old person. You look like you are 80 when you come out. So I can’t imagine what four years of being 80 would look like,” he said. “I would not wish that on anybody.”

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Alicia Coffee, who grew up in Amherst but now lives in Concord, said she’d vote for Biden – or any other Democrat the party nominated – in the hopes of keeping Trump out of the White House. But she sees Biden’s predicament – including his decision to seek reelection – as one of his own making, in part because his campaign team pushed for an early debate. She hopes the collateral damage from last week’s matchup doesn’t last.

“I think it definitely made everybody go, oh, maybe he is too old,” Coffee said. “And I think it was his choice, he asked for it, and should have made sure he was up for it.”

As for the Biden-Harris campaign, the message they were putting out at the Amherst Fourth of July parade was unequivocal — and emphatic.

“B-I-D-E-N, Biden’s going to win again,” supporters chanted as their float made its way past spectators.

For Biden – and Democrats across the country – a lot is riding on his capacity to demonstrate he’s up for it, and convincing persuadable voters of the same.