Politics

Biden’s New York Support Crumbles as Election Anxiety Mounts

US President Joe Biden during a working session at the NATO Summit in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, July 10, 2024. President Joe Biden and NATO's 31 other leaders had hoped their summit would celebrate fresh unity against Russia's Vladimir Putin, send a warning to China and prove the alliance is as strong as ever in its 75th year, but the three days of pageantry will be overshadowed by domestic turmoil across the alliance. Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images (Ting Shen/Photographer: Ting Shen/Bloomber)

(Bloomberg) -- Support for President Joe Biden’s candidacy is cracking in one of the party’s key pillars: New York.

Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, who says that Biden “deserves our eternal gratitude” for his nearly four years running the country, called for him to end his campaign for reelection and make “room for a new leader.” 

That came just hours after Hudson Valley congressman Pat Ryan, a rising star in the party, issued an unequivocal call for Biden to step down from the race against former President Donald Trump.

“Trump is an existential threat to American democracy; it is our duty to put forward the strongest candidate against him,” Ryan, who won a special election for his swing district seat in 2022, posted on social media. “Joe Biden is a patriot but is no longer the best candidate to defeat Trump.”

Even Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has signaled concern to donors that he’s open to replacing Biden, Axios reported, citing people familiar with the matter.  

Listen and follow The Big Take DC on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts

While a majority of the state’s Democratic delegation and some of its most senior politicians, including Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, continue to offer full-throated support to Biden, dissent is growing publicly and privately. It’s a remarkable moment for the Empire State, the country’s media capital and home to a sizable bloc of the party’s most prolific donors — as well as the two Democratic US Congressional leaders, Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. 

The divisions aren’t neatly divided by ideology, geography or how safe the politicians’ seats are in November, underscoring the complex fractures and calculations within the national Democratic party since the 81-year-old president’s disastrous debate performance last month against Trump.

“This is unprecedented,” said Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University.  

Deeply Personal

For some Democrats, the calculus is deeply personal as they decide whether to abandon a man whom many respect and have worked with for decades. Others are thinking strategically about whether the party can coalesce around another candidate with just weeks until the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Greer said.

“What would it look like to change course now?,” she said. “What would it look like to stay with a candidate who some argue had one bad night while others argue it’s part of a much more concerning pattern?”

That’s an issue raised by Bronx Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres, who used social media to question how Biden staying in the race will affect the party’s efforts to regain control of the House.

Pressure is now mounting on party leadership to exert more control over the rank and file as Schumer and Jeffries tread carefully in their public statements.

Schumer, asked repeatedly about whether he still supports the president, has stuck to his careful, three-word answer: “I’m with Joe” including repeating the phrase after the Axios report. In a brief statement later released by his office, Schumer reiterated his support, which he said he has made clear “repeatedly publicly and privately.”

Jeffries has said he supports the president but hasn’t done much publicly to quell dissent. He stirred speculation that he was leaning against Biden when he posted to X a Bible verse that follows a passage in which Moses dies of old age and a younger leader takes over. The congressman’s allies insisted he hadn’t meant to imply anything about the president. 

There are even concerns that New York, which Biden won by 23 points over Trump in 2020, could possibly be competitive in the presidential race. Polls show the president’s lead in the state narrowing, leading to panic among some officials and consultants, Politico reported Wednesday.

‘Extremely Receptive’

Even as Biden faces growing calls to abandon his reelection bid — Vermont Democrat Peter Welch on Wednesday became the first sitting senator to publicly urge him to leave the campaign, while actor George Clooney issued a similar plea — there’s still a powerful bloc of New Yorkers who are holding firm in their support. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, has been one of Biden’s most vocal surrogates as he tries to appeal to more left-wing and younger voters in the party. It’s a hugely important role as Democrats look to rally voters in swing states disaffected over Biden’s support of Israel amid the war in Gaza.

“The matter is closed,” Ocasio-Cortez said earlier this week. “Joe Biden is our nominee. He is not leaving this race. He is in this race, and I support him.”

Biden has also garnered public shows of support in recent days from the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke said CBC “members were extremely receptive,” to Biden. “I know I’m team Biden-Harris,” Clarke told MSNBC. 

Hochul, who handpicked Delgado as her lieutenant governor and running mate in 2022, was one of the first national politicians to support Biden in the days after the debate.

“Joe Biden is in it to win it,” Hochul said last week outside the White House after a crisis meeting Biden held with Democratic governors. On Thursday, after Delgado’s criticism of Biden, she reiterated her support describing Biden as a “fighter” who’s frequently been underestimated.

But other Democrats are having a hard time suppressing worry over Biden’s age and ability to beat Trump, 78, who’s ahead in most national and swing-state polls. 

Late last week, Manhattan Congressman Jerry Nadler and upstate Congressman Joe Morelle both expressed serious concerns about Biden’s candidacy, although Nadler later said that Biden is “going to be our nominee, and we all have to support him.”

“Whether or not I have concerns is besides the point,” Nadler said.

--With assistance from Esme Fox.

(Updates with Hochul statement in 21st paragraph.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.