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As Biden reassures Democrats, cracks emerge in Michigan’s united front

Joe Biden sitting down, American flags behind him
President Joe Biden, set to return to Detroit on Friday, is vowing to stay in the race after a poor debate and dismissing concerns he may struggle with Black voters. (Bridge photo by Simon Schuster).
  • Some Michigan Democrats voicing concern over President Joe Biden’s candidacy but stopping short of calling for him to drop out
  • The president visits Detroit Friday in a crucial week to prove his vitality and viability following a poor debate performance
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she’s not interested in replacing Biden on this year’s ballot should he step down

President Joe Biden on Monday forcefully dismissed calls to end his reelection campaign, but some Michigan Democrats are continuing to raise concerns about his viability as a candidate this fall. 

“The problem is, are we putting our best foot forward?” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans asked aloud after a Monday morning press conference in Detroit, where Biden will campaign Friday.

Biden is set to visit Michigan — a key battleground state — as he seeks to reassure a party shaken by his poor performance in a June 27 debate and silence concerns about his campaign against Republican former President Donald Trump. 


No members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation have called on Biden to withdraw from the race to allow for an alternative nominee, and some have expressed unwavering support.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is running for the open U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Democrat Debbie Stabenow, said Monday she will “do all I can to help Democrats keep the White House.”


But she didn’t mention Biden directly, and her campaign did not respond to a Bridge question about whether she supports Biden specifically.

"No one feels good about the debate,” Slotkin said in a statement. “The president had a bad showing, as he’s acknowledged, while Donald Trump lied throughout the debate on serious, consequential issues.”

U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten, D-Grand Rapids, was one of the first to question Biden’s performance, saying she raised “concerns” with fellow Democrats over the debate. But she also criticized Trump for failing to say whether he’d accept the election results if he lost again.

One month ago, the notion of Biden exiting the presidential race wasn’t a realistic conversation among Democrats. But in a few short weeks, the national conversation has shifted, putting Biden in the unlikely position of having to reconsolidate support after sweeping primary elections. 

“I have heard concerns from quite a few Democrats,” said state Rep. Jason Morgan, D-Ann Arbor, who also serves as first vice chair of the Michigan Democratic Party. 

“Ultimately, it is up to President Biden” to determine whether he “is in the strongest position to win,” Morgan told Bridge. “If he is confident he can get the job done, then I'll stick to my current plan of working every day to get him” and Vice President Kamala Harris elected. 

Lon Johnson, a former state party chairman, was more forceful last week, calling upon the president to withdraw his candidacy, saying he would be “remembered for a lifetime of honorable service to our country.”

Biden should step down to “allow the party to find a new candidate,” Johnson wrote on Facebook. “It’s clear the president is suffering from cognitive decline, and the actions by him, his family, and staff since the debate have only reinforced that belief.”

An 'apathy' warning in Detroit

Biden has turned to the Black community in the days since his poor showing in the first presidential debate, going on Black radio stations and visiting Milwaukee and Philadelphia. 

On Friday, he will return to Detroit, which was integral to his 2020 win. He received 221,000 more votes than Trump that year, propelling him to a 154,000-vote victory in the state.

But Evans, a longtime Biden supporter, on Monday voiced concerns about the president’s debate performance and reiterated his concerns that Democrats aren’t doing enough to appeal to Black and other minority voters.

He suggested lower voter turnout among Black voters — Detroit’s turnout was about 20 percentage points lower than the statewide rate of 68% in 2020 — was a reflection of the candidates offered.

“The apathy has been earned,” Evans said. “The low voting rate among African Americans is really sad…unfortunately, the politicians have earned it.”

Evans said he will vote for Biden if he is the Democratic nominee, however, because “there’s no way in the world I’m going to support Donald Trump.” 

Warren Evans, wearing a grey jacket, speaks into a microphone. People are standing behind him
Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, pictured during a Monday press conference, said he’ll vote for whoever becomes the Democratic nominee, but is “absolutely” concerned about Biden’s debate performance and questioned whether Democrats are “putting our best foot forward” in the 2024 cycle.

A growing number of Democrats nationally are looking at potential alternatives, but Biden on Monday dared them to “challenge me at the convention” and sent a terse letter to House Democrats telling them it’s time to end the internal debate over his candidacy.

“Any weakening of resolve or lack of clarity about the task ahead only helps Trump and hurts us,” Biden wrote. “It is time to come together, move forward as a unified party, and defeat Donald Trump."

It remains to be seen if more Democrats will heed Biden’s call. 

Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat facing a tough reelection race of his own, said Monday that Biden still has to “prove” he’s up for the campaign and another four years in the White House.

In Michigan, some Democrats are rallying. U.S. Reps. Shri Thanedar, D-Detroit, and Haley Stevens, D-Birmingham, have expressed unequivocal support for Biden.

“I trust our president and know he is the one to finish the job,” Stevens posted Monday on social media.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, on Monday downplayed concerns Biden could drag down other candidates on the November ballot. 

"I support him, and I feel good about our Senate races," Peters reportedly said

Other Democrats in Michigan’s congressional delegation have raised questions. U.S. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, has said Biden “needs to show he can do the job…He’s got to talk to the American people.

Whitmer calls replacement talk a ‘distraction’

With the general election less than 120 days away, the path for Democrats to select another candidate would likely be fraught and messy

Biden controls all the necessary delegates to get the nomination, having won them decisively during the primary campaign. That includes Michigan, where he secured at least 117 delegates after more than 625,000 voters backed him. 

Biden would have to voluntarily step aside so his delegates would be free to select an alternative candidate at the Democratic Party’s August nominating convention in Chicago. 

That won’t happen, Biden said in a Monday morning interview on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

"We had a democratic nominating process where the voters spoke clearly,” he said, referencing his primary wins. 

Ahead of his visit to Detroit, Biden also downplayed any suggestion he is losing support among Black voters.

"Give me a break," he said. "Come with me. Watch. I'm getting so frustrated by the elites ... in this party who think they know so much more."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, one of the most frequently mentioned alternative candidates, said she’s not interested this year. In response to a question about whether she would consider becoming a presidential candidate this year if Biden stepped down, she told the Associated Press, “No.”

“It’s a distraction more than anything,” Whitmer reportedly said. “I don’t like seeing my name in articles like that because I’m totally focused on governing and campaigning for the ticket.”

Democrats likely need Michigan to keep the White House, and Biden has trailed Trump in most surveys of likely voters in the state so far this year.  Along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016 en route to his upset national victory. 

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, admitted that Biden’s performance in the June 27 debate was poor. But he said the alternative — former President Trump — was worse.

“We've got democracy at stake, so we can't let our search for the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Kildee told CNN on July 1. “And Joe Biden is a very good person.”

Abdul El-Sayed, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Wayne County health official, is a progressive who backed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016.

On Monday, at the event with Evans in Detroit, he lamented the choices facing voters, but he did not directly criticize Biden.

“One of the challenges that we've had is that folks for a presidential year just aren't as excited as they ought to be,” he said. “Too often, that is because our politics seem to deliver a choice between bad or worse.”


Attorney General Dana Nessel, who did not respond to a request for comment on this story, raised eyebrows with a Sunday social media post that appeared to allude to Biden and the presidential race. 

In a reply to a tweet from soccer star Alex Morgan, who had expressed disappointment for not making this year’s U.S. Olympic squad, Nessel called her one of the greatest players ever. 

But, Nessel added: “She’s aged significantly from her prime playing days & gracefully accepted that in order to win the gold it was time to pass the baton.”

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