Biden Digs In, Declares He Is Staying in Presidential Race

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden declared he was staying in the presidential race and denounced efforts to push him out during a visit to swing-state Wisconsin, kicking off a furious effort to restore the faith of voters, donors and party officials deeply skeptical of his fitness for office.

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“Let me say it as clearly as I can, I’m staying in the race,” Biden, 81, said Friday during a campaign stop in the state capital of Madison. “I’ll beat Donald Trump.”

In a revamped stump speech that directly addressed questions about his age, Biden said those imploring him to end his bid were trying to overturn the will of Democratic primary voters. He said his age wouldn’t stop him from pushing for abortion rights or gun control laws.

“I keep seeing all those stories about my being too old,” Biden said. “Let me say something — I wasn’t too old to create over 15 million new jobs.”

The event marked the start of the most consequential weekend of Biden’s political career, with the president facing the reality that any misstep will prove fatal to his reelection campaign. Most crucial for Biden will be an interview airing Friday night with ABC News, offering voters and allies the first unscripted, high-pressure look at the president since he faltered in his showdown with Trump, the Republican presidential candidate.

Speaking to reporters as he left Madison, Biden said he “thought it was a good interview.”

The president said he had spoken to at least 20 lawmakers since the debate, and that they had encouraged him to stay in the race. He said he was positive he could serve another four years and had completely ruled out dropping out.

He downplayed a report from the Washington Post that Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia was working to assemble a group of lawmakers to lobby the president to stand aside.

“He’s the only one considering that,” Biden said. “No one else is calling for that.”

Biden will need to show he’s able to harness some of the humor and vigor on display Friday afternoon without the benefit of a teleprompter.

In his speech, the president joked to the crowd that he was 40 years old and mocked Trump’s own misstatements, including his 2019 remark that the Continental Army “took over the airports” from the British to win the Revolutionary War.

“Talk about me misspeaking?” Biden said.

The president’s own speech was not without the occasional misstep, declaring at one point that he would defeat Trump “again in 2020” before catching himself and saying 2024.

Still, the performance — punctuated by Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” as the president exited the stage — could offer some relief to supporters who have spent the days since the debate desperately trying to save his campaign.

“I learned long ago, when you get knocked down, you get back up,” Biden said. “I’m not letting one 90 minute debate wipe out 3 1/2 years of work.”

Still, there is no guarantee that anything Biden does will be enough to calm the nerves of anxious Democrats, who for years have painted Trump as an existential threat to the nation.

Had a Cold

A series of excuses offered by the president and the White House — that he was battling a cold, weary from travel and not getting enough sleep — did little but reinforce fundamental questions about whether Biden, already 81 years old, could be entrusted as the leader of the free world for another four years.

While most party elders and prominent governors have so far resisted publicly calling on the president to drop out, they’ve also bluntly acknowledged their worry and said questions about his ability to handle the job are legitimate.

Top Democratic donors have said they would withhold or redirect their money unless Biden stepped aside, while lawmakers continue to discuss whether to band together and call for a change atop the ticket.

The president has conceded in some conversations with allies that another debacle in the coming days would necessitate a rethinking of the race, the New York Times reported. The White House and the campaign denied that account.

NATO Summit

Biden must also turn his attention to shoring up support among foreign leaders set to descend on Washington next week for the summit marking the 75th anniversary of NATO. His performance at the debate unleashed a torrent of concern in world capitals, with diplomats detailing instances in which they saw Biden’s age showing during critical international gatherings.

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At the same time, Trump is riding high, with a series of upcoming events that could further bolster his advantage.

The Republican nominee is expected to hold rallies of his own in Florida and Pennsylvania next week, and has hinted that he is readying the announcement of a running mate. After that, Republicans will gather in Milwaukee to nominate Trump as the presidential candidate for the third consecutive time.

Trump holds a 48%-42% advantage among voters, according to a poll released Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal, with eight in 10 Americans saying the president is too old to run for a second term. That is the greatest advantage Trump, who is 78, has held over Biden this year.

Biden’s campaign announced they planned $50 million in paid media in the month of July, and had plans to purchase commercial time during high-profile events like the Olympic Games and during coverage of the Republican convention.

Biden also plans a travel swing later this month targeting Black and Latino voters in the Southwest, attending the NAACP and UnidosUS conferences in Las Vegas, his campaign said in a memo, while Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to attend the Essence Festival in New Orleans and address the annual meetings of two historic Black sororities.

Biden will also “engage in frequent off-the-cuff moments over the course of the month,” the campaign said in the memo, an implicit acknowledgment of the concern over his ability to handle unscripted moments.

(Updates with additional Biden remarks starting sixth paragraph)

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