If Not Biden, Who?
A look at the alternatives
Count me among those who think that it’s risky for Democrats to go all-in on Joe Biden in 2024. I like Biden, but he’s older than wool underwear, and I worry that he won’t stay cogent through 2029. And polls show that a lot of people have the same concern.
Biden’s only primary challenger is Marianne Williamson, a woman who seems like she should be running a shop in Portland that sells hemp tampons. That’s not ideal. Some feel that Biden should face a real primary challenge, and others want him to rethink the VP slot given the non-zero chance that he might suddenly disintegrate into nothingness, Obi-Wan Kenobi-style. Of course, the appeal of any possible alternative scenario waxes and wanes based on the “who” in the question “who else?” So, let’s look at who else could conceivably run.
I’m not going to talk about anyone who ran in 2020. You already know the likes of Bernie and Buttigieg; this column is about lesser-known Democrats who might step in if — for one reason or another — Biden is suddenly not The Guy. To build this list, I contacted several influential Democrats, each of whom completely ignored me, except for Barack Obama, who told me to “go jump up my own dick.”1 So, I just googled “Democrats who might run if Biden croaks” and compiled the names that came up most often. Here are those names, as well as my attempt to answer the most pressing questions you might have about them.
Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan
What’s her deal?
As governor, Whitmer has emphasized a get-things-done approach — her campaign slogan was "fix the damn roads", which may have paved the way for profanity-laced slogans such as “reform the fucking schools” and “let’s build some parks up in this bitch!” During Covid, Whitmer sparred with Trump and became a figure of ire for many on the right, but she remained popular in her state, winning re-election over challenger Tudor Dixon by 11 points in 2022.
And Tudor Dixon is a person, right, not a style of architecture or a product in the West Elm catalogue?
Tudor Dixon is a person.
Wasn’t there a thing where, like…Nazis tried to kill Gretchen Whitmer or something? Or was it like…a ninja attack, or ninjas hired by Nazis, or maybe like a fatwa or a bomb hidden somewhere, possibly on a bus? Wasn’t there something like that?
Whitmer is from Michigan — isn’t Michigan one of the twelve states that matter in the Electoral College?
No, Michigan is one of the seven states that matter in the Electoral College.
Is Whitmer in that extremely narrow window of physical attractiveness that we demand of female politicians, in which they have to be good-looking enough to be telegenic, but not so good-looking that they remind men of the girls who wouldn’t date them in high school?
We wouldn’t be talking about her if she wasn’t.
Are you going to say anything about her record as governor, or just make flippant jokes based on superficial traits?
Flippant jokes based on superficial traits put bread on my table, but fine: Whitmer has expanded Medicaid, steered money towards infrastructure spending, and significantly expanded Michigan’s earned income tax credit. She oversaw Democratic efforts to use ballot initiatives to reduce gerrymandering and protect abortion rights in Michigan, and helped Michigan become the first state in decades to repeal a “right to work” law. Happy now?
Not really. Got any more flippant, superficial jokes?
Gretchen is a name that a pioneer girl would give to her corn cob doll in 1852.
J. B. Pritzker, Governor of Illinois
What’s his deal?
Pritzker has governed as a progressive in a center-left state. During his tenure, Illinois raised the minimum wage to $15/hour, legalized weed, ended cash bail, and passed a law requiring Illinois residents to drive to Indiana to buy assault weapons. Pritzker is also heir to the Hyatt Hotel chain, with a net worth of $3.6 billion. This means that he could potentially follow the the fund-your-own-way-to-the-presidency path that was so successful for President Bloomberg, President Steyer, President Forbes, and President Perot.
So, he’s Paris Hilton’s uncle or something?
No, HYATT hotels, not Hilton.
Then why isn’t his last name “Hyatt”?
A full primary campaign may provide an answer to this thorny question.
Didn’t the Governor of Illinois go to prison?
You’re thinking of Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, Daniel Walker, and Otto Kerner. Illinois is currently on an incredible streak of three consecutive not-yet-incarcerated governors.
So he’s a non-centrist from a non-battleground state who performed basically as-expected in the last election,2 and who is also a billionaire at a time when billionaires are about as popular as head lice in the Democratic Party. Why are we even talking about this guy?
Pritzker has become influential in the Democratic Party due to his networking skills and his willingness to use his fortune to back progressive causes. Also, I needed to fill column inches, and having five candidates makes this column seem more legit than if it had four.
Is Horatio Sanz still on Saturday Night Live?
No, so someone else will have to play Pritzker if he runs.
Jared Polis, Governor of Colorado
What’s his deal?
Polis does a lot of stuff that Democrats like: As Governor of Colorado, he delivered all-day kindergarten and boldly promised to make Colorado 100 percent reliable on renewable energy a scant 24 years after his second term is set to end. He’s also shown centrist tendencies: He’s denounced tariffs, backed charter schools, and (along with 79 percent of Colorado voters) opposed the creation of a state-run health agency. He is also extremely wealthy, which gets him on a lot of “possible Biden replacement” lists, because apparently every rich guy’s secret ambition is to self-fund a quixotic presidential campaign like Connor Roy on Succession.
He’s from Colorado — isn’t Colorado a battleground state?
No. Colorado was a battleground state ten years ago, but it is now a solidly blue socialist republic populated by patchouli-slathered vegans and anarchist snowboarders.
Speaking of Colorado: How confusing is it that John Denver’s biggest hit is “Rocky Mountain High”, but he’s from Arizona, and then there’s another song where he sings “take me home” to West Virginia?
Polis will have to answer for this during the campaign.
Have we, as a society, progressed far enough that there’s no reason to even mention that Polis is gay?
Is Polis’ husband a sassy social media star like Chasten Buttigieg?
No, he’s just some numb-nuts writer and animal rights activist. What a disappointment!
Raphael Warnock, Senator from Georgia
What’s his deal?
Warnock won a Senate seat in a tough election in 2020, then won that seat again by a commanding three point margin in 2022. Warnock was hailed as the first Black Senator from the South since Reconstruction by people who forgot about Tim Scott, and then hailed as the only Black Democrat currently in the Senate by people who forgot about Cory Booker, and then eventually hailed as the first Black Democrat from the South since Reconstruction by people who just knew that Warnock had to be the first Black something-or-other since something and were determined not to give up.
Warnock’s opponent in 2022 was Hershel Walker, an ultra-conservative nutcase with a history of violence. How might Warnock fare against a different candidate?
Warnock would presumably have an easier time against a candidate who exemplifies Georgian culture less perfectly than Walker.
What fact about Warnock does he probably really want to work into every conversation that he has?
That he is a pastor at the same church where Martin Luther King was a pastor.
If Warnock is in the Senate, then who gives the sermon at his church while he’s gone?
Katt Williams has been filling in and fucking crushing it.
Warnock is a good fundraiser — what’s the significance of that?
It tells us that in our political system — which is poisoned by money, which forces the work of legislating to come second to the work of fundraising, and which sacrifices the best intentions of good men and women to the financial realities of campaigning like virgins being tossed into the maw of a bubbling volcano — Warnock is an asset.
Gavin Newsom, Governor of California
What’s his deal?
Newsom is in his second term as Governor of California, and has recently begun raising his national profile. He’s made appearances across the country and the world, which is totally something that someone not running for president would do. He has delighted Democrats by picking public fights with Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and the two will debate in November, which is, again, a completely normal act for a person who is not running for president. Newsom has a progressive record on issues like climate change and gun control, but he recently angered progressives by breaking with them on issues relating to transgender rights and homelessness, almost as if to position himself for a national run. But, of course, he’s not running for any nation-wide office, how dare you even suggest such a thing.
So, I should probably buy “Newsom2024.com”, “Gavin4President.com”, and “GoGavin24.com” so that I can sell them back to him in a month or two, right?
I would be stunned if he does not already own these addresses.
How long before you mention that Vanity Fair photo of Newsom with his then-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle sprawled out on a carpet like the biggest douche-rockets in the entire univ-
And Guilfoyle went on to work at Fox News, campaign for Trump, and get engaged to Donald Trump, Jr., right? How weird is that?
The amount of weirdness cannot be calculated using our present mathematical knowledge.
Newsom survived a recall election in 2021 — what was that about?
That was about conservative activists realizing that California law allows them to drag citizens into a never-ending voting hell similar to the one that House Republicans are in right now.
Is Newsom filthy rich like Pritzker and Polis?
Newsom’s net worth is estimated at a mere $42 million, which should help him connect with ordinary, working class Joes.
Does Newsom ever not look like the head of an evil corporation in an action movie?
Yes; sometimes Newsom looks like the asshole boyfriend at the beginning of a rom com.
Newsom has clearly said that he’s not running for president in 2024. Doesn’t that put the issue to rest?
No, he didn’t, and you really shouldn’t have needed this footnote.
Here’s why I say that Pritzker performed “basically as-expected”: He won re-election in 2022 by a margin of 12.5 percent. In that same election, Democrats won Senate, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Comptroller seats in Illinois by margins 15.3, 10.9, 10.7, and 22.9 percent, respectively. In 2020, Biden won Illinois by 17 percent.