Biden launches campaign in neck-and-neck race

March 11, 2024 22:45

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Joe Biden launched his re-election campaign for the vote in November with a fierce attack on Donald Trump and the dangers he would pose.

Opinion polls put the race at neck-and-neck, with Trump marginally ahead if the election were held today.

This year’s campaign is unprecedented. First, because of the age of the two men – Biden is 81 and Trump 77, making them the oldest two candidates in a presidential race. Second, because Trump is facing 91 criminal charges, a first for a presidential candidate. Third, Trump wants to change the system of governance.

He wants to dismiss large number of civil servants and replace them with his own appointments. He also wants to make the Department of Justice subject to his own control. Both measures would severely curtail the independence of the Department and the civil service.

In his State of the Union speech, Biden attacked Trump for ending abortion for tens of millions of Americans, refusing to limit gun ownership, supporting Putin in his invasion of Ukraine and fomenting the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Of these issues, the most advantageous for Biden is abortion. In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by six judges to three, that there was no constitutional right to abortion, overturning a law in place since 1973. This was a very unpopular ruling. Three of the six judges were appointed by Trump.

The latest Gallup opinion poll found that only13 per cent of Americans believed abortion should be illegal under any circumstances, against 34 per cent who say that it should be legal under any circumstances and 51 per cent that it should be legal in certain cases.

In his speech, Biden promised that, during a second term, he would pass a law bringing back the right to abortion. For this, the Democrats would have to become the majority party in both houses of Congress. Currently, they are in a minority in the House of Representatives.

Another plus for Biden is that the economy has performed well during his term. It will grow 2.2 per cent this year after adjusting for inflation, according to the National Association for Business Economics. Inflation and unemployment are falling.

But, despite this, opinion polls published in March found that less than 40 per cent approved of Biden’s overall job performance, while 45 disapproved. Those polled named the economy, immigration and abortion as their top three issues.

One reason is his age and public uncertainty about his ability to do the country’s most exacting job for another four years. Already the oldest sitting American president, he would be 86 years old by the end of his second term.

In January, an ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 59 per cent of Americans thought both presumptive nominees were too old to serve another term. University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said: “If either party could come up with a quality, younger nominee, that person would win by a landslide.”

But Biden insists that he has earned the right to run again, more than any other Democrat, and that he had a personal mission to defeat Trump. “He stands against U.S. democracy, he wants revenge and escape from criminal prosecution,” he told the New Yorker magazine. “Look at my record as president. Other sitting presidents also sought re-election.”

Biden’s staff insist that the opinion polls are not accurate and that, come November, many Republicans will not vote for Trump because of his extreme policies. His support base, while strong and enthusiastic, is not the majority of voters.

The wars in Ukraine and Gaza are not working to Biden’s advantage. Trump opposes further U.S. aid to Ukraine, saying that the money should be spent at home, especially on sealing the border with Mexico. A majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives support him, as do many of the American public.

Biden’s strong support for Israel is unpopular with many members of his party, especially Muslims and the left wing. In the key state of Michigan, which has a large Arab-American population, more than 100,000 Democrats voted “uncommitted” on their ballots for the party primary in March.

2024 may turn out to be the most dramatic Presidential election year. Will either of these two elderly men suffer a heart attack or another health issue this year? Will a court order Trump to serve time in prison? Will Ukraine or Russia have a sudden victory in their war? Will Vladimir Putin be assassinated by his bodyguards or those close to him?

Who dares to predict the outcome?

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.