Joe Biden campaigns in battleground state as Democrats debate his future

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Joe Biden is campaigning in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania on Sunday as he seeks to persuade voters he is fit for office, even as members of his own party debate whether he should be replaced as Democratic presidential candidate.

Biden will make two campaign stops in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, both major cities in the state Biden needs to win to retain control of the White House in November. 

The appearances — which include an address to a Black church in Philadelphia and a union event in Harrisburg — are part of a stepped-up effort from the Biden campaign to quell growing alarm among Democrats panicked by the 81-year-old’s shaky debate performance last week.

A high-stakes primetime interview on Friday night did little to calm their nerves as the president faced tough questions about his age and mental acuity. 

On Sunday, the Democratic Senator for Connecticut Chris Murphy told CNN that the interview would not be enough to convince voters.

“Personally, I love Joe Biden, I don’t know that the interview on Friday night did enough to answer those questions,” said Murphy. “This week is going to be absolutely critical. I think the president needs to do more.”

“The clock is ticking,” he added.

Many Democratic lawmakers, party operatives and influential donors have privately called for Biden to suspend his re-election campaign after last week’s disastrous debate, and pressure is likely to grow this week as lawmakers return from a brief recess. 

The New York Times reported on Friday that the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Hakeem Jeffries, will hold a virtual meeting with senior House Democrats on Sunday to discuss Biden’s candidacy.

In the Senate, Virginia Senator Mark Warner would gather Democrats on Monday for a similar meeting, the Times reported. 

Although Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020, Trump now leads by 4.5 percentage points in a RealClearPolitics average of polls.

Speaking from printed remarks on Sunday afternoon at Mt Airy Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia, Biden told the congregation that his goal was to “unite America again”.

“I know I look like I’m 40 years old, but I’ve been around a little bit,” Biden joked. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I — honest to God — have never more optimistic about America’s future if we stick together, I really mean it.”

Throughout Friday’s roughly 20-minute interview on ABC, Biden rejected opinion surveys that show him trailing Trump both nationwide and in the pivotal swing states that will determine the election outcome.

“I don’t think anybody is more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” Biden said on Friday.

His campaign could gain some comfort from a poll out over the weekend showing he leads Trump in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin. The candidates are tied in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina, but the president remains behind in Pennsylvania.

Congressman Adam Schiff of California said on NBC on Sunday that Biden’s debate performance “rightfully raised questions among the American people about whether the president has the vigour to defeat Donald Trump. And this is an existential race.”

“Given Joe Biden’s incredible record, given Donald Trump’s terrible record, he should be mopping the floor with Donald Trump. Joe Biden is running against a criminal. It should not be even close, and there’s only one reason it is close. And that’s the president’s age.”

In an opinion piece for CNN over the weekend, David Axelrod, the architect of Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, warned that: “At this rate, Biden is likely headed for a landslide defeat to a lawless and unpopular former president.”

“Denial. Delusion. Defiance,” he added.

But some lawmakers were still publicly supporting him over the weekend, including influential South Carolina Democratic congressman Jim Clyburn and progressive favourite Bernie Sanders.

“What we are talking about now is not a Grammy award contest for best singer,” said Sanders on CBS’ Face the Nation.

“Biden is old. He’s not as articulate as he once was. I wish he could jump up the steps on Air Force One. He can’t. What we have got to focus on is policy.”

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