President Biden, already facing dismal approval numbers and multiple liberals looking to replace him, got more unwelcome news this week with the entry of Jill Stein into the 2024 presidential race.
Stein, who announced Thursday that she would seek the Green Party nomination for the second time, is considered a fringe and intrusive figure to many Democrats who think she played the part of spoiler to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s White House campaign against former President Trump.
Her third-party candidacy is now one of a half dozen bids from the left, center and independent spectrum that could damage Biden in the race, bringing attention to the president’s limitations as the Republican primary field shrinks. And it came the same day Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced he is not seeking reelection, raising speculation that he could also seek the Oval Office next year.
Stein’s case for her candidacy, as she tells it, is to “offer a choice for the people outside the failed two-party system,” an increasingly dominant theme in an election with two unpopular front-runners that’s now less than a year away.
“The political system is broken. The two Wall Street parties are bought and paid for. Over 60 percent of us now say the bipartisan establishment has failed us, and we need a party that serves the people,” she said in a video unveiling her campaign this week.
Stein evokes a particularly strong reaction from Democrats still reeling over the Clinton loss. But her argument for a systematic political change is not so unique.
As Biden aides and allies swat off criticisms that the president is too old or disliked among voters to win another general election, other contenders have worked around those issues with their bids. Most of that push has involved challenging not only Biden, but the country’s predominant two-party electoral system.
Stein’s abrupt relaunch into presidential politics comes weeks after Cornel West, a leading academic and progressive activist, decided to run as an independent after formerly campaigning with the Green Party. His departure created an opening for another choice on the far-left ticket, where Stein stepped in this week with little fanfare.
While some of Biden’s rivals, such as long-shot Democratic primary challenger Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.), are tying their candidacies to his age, Stein and West — who are both in their 70s — are instead focusing on pitching a change to how the U.S. conducts elections.
Both progressives have called for a rejiggering of the structure that they believe forces Americans to choose the lesser of two imperfect party options. They’re telling voters there’s another way.
“We need leadership that will actually build our nation up and focus on the true interests and priorities of the American people,” said one progressive Democratic activist based in an early primary state who has been critical of Biden.
Stein’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Progressives in general feel that a lot of their priorities have been dismissed or inadequately addressed by the Biden administration. While they once felt optimistic about the direction of his White House, many have increasingly expressed disappointment about the course of his presidency.
“We need a president who will champion a significantly higher minimum wage, the [Protecting the Right to Organize Act], railroad workers’ right to strike, Starbucks workers’ right to organize and truly all working people’s rights to a living wage,” the early-state activist said. “New voices are sounding more and more like the solution to the rampant problems we’re facing.”
Marianne Williamson, another critic of establishment politics who’s of the same generation as Stein and West, is presenting an alternative to Biden’s reelection by running directly against him in the primary. She’s making the case along with Cenk Uygur, a media host and leftist, that Biden has sunk too low in public opinion to emerge victorious in a long and rough general election. They see his policies as a big part of why he’s dipped so low, and several are urging him to debate them on the national stage.
“With President Biden polling low against Trump, it’s imperative he debate his challengers,” Williamson, who also sought the Democratic nomination in 2020, said in a direct message to The Hill on X, the platform formerly called Twitter. “It’s unfair to the Democratic electorate to not give us an opportunity to properly assess our options. The voters and voters alone should determine who the Democrats run as our nominee in 2024.”
Biden’s problems are coming across loud and clear to Democrats through a series of startlingly bad polls. A batch of battleground surveys released over the past several days shows him losing to Trump in a majority of swing states that he won in 2020, painting him as a highly vulnerable incumbent. Places such as Arizona and Georgia, where Biden counted wins last election, have turned in favor of the former president, and swing states including Michigan and Wisconsin are again up for grabs.
Still, some Democrats speculated that the polls could be unrepresentative of where Biden stands or where he could end up in 12 months.
“If you compare these polls to other polls that have been done in these states, these polls are more negative,” said Mark Mellman, a prominent pollster and Democratic strategist. “Which suggests they might be a little bit of an outlier.”
But as more grim numbers trickled in throughout the week, other Democrats stepped up their criticism of Biden. Three of his former 2020 primary rivals — former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and Andrew Yang — have drawn attention to his poor standing with the public.
“On some counts, Biden has been successful,” O’Rourke said at an event hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government on Thursday, discussing immigration and asylum policy. “On other counts he’s really failing us … it is no secret that Democratic voters are unexcited about Biden, and that is putting it politely.”
Comments like O’Rourke’s have become more frequent and less controversial within the party as Biden struggles to keep up enthusiasm and public confidence.
Some Democrats say it’s mainly a messaging issue that’s keeping him down. They believe if they can convince voters Biden’s age isn’t such a hindrance and that he’s still best positioned to take on the former president, it will become more apparent as voters cast their ballots in the first few contests.
“They need to sharpen the contrast with Trump,” said Mellman. “There’s plenty of time for that. I’m sure they know that, I’m sure they will do that. They’ve begun to do it.”
“Once we start to get through Iowa and New Hampshire, and assuming it does become clear that Trump’s the nominee, that distinction will come into greater focus for voters,” he added.
But the possibility that Biden will need to contrast himself with other candidates not named Donald Trump is an anxiety-causing scenario that’s now setting in for campaign operatives trying to figure out how to handle the range of outside rivals.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has been rising in polls as he works to get on the requisite state ballots to qualify as an independent candidate next year. For now, he’s polling favorably with young voters and independents alike, two voting blocs that are critical for Democrats to keep the executive branch.
And Manchin’s retirement from the upper chamber adds another dimension to the murkiness.
In sharing his plans, the West Virginia Democrat kept the door open to a potential presidential bid, saying he intends to tour the country to gauge interest in bringing people together in the “middle.”
“I have made one of the toughest decisions of my life and decided that I will not be running for reelection to the United States Senate, but what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together,” he said in a video.
Manchin, who has been a thorn in liberals’ side throughout much of Biden’s first term, has sparked concerns among those who are equally worried about their prospects of retaining the Senate without his seat and also that he could run in 2024 and further cripple Biden’s chances. If he ran for president, he would become the Democratic caucus’s first senator and second Democratic lawmaker in Congress to do so this cycle, following Phillips in the House.
While Manchin’s announcement caused chatter inside the Beltway, not everyone is sweating the additional noise.
“Hopefully this mass engagement with politics can be productive and give direction to Biden’s administration,” said Hassan Martini, a Democratic operative who leads the group No Dem Left Behind. “Recent polls do show Biden’s approval rating down” this fall, he acknowledged, but like other hopeful voices in the party, Martini sees a long road ahead until voters head to the polls.
“There’s plenty of time for Biden to steady his course,” he said.