Biden slows Democratic defections, but concerns remain: From the Politics Desk

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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, our team of political and congressional reporters look at how President Joe Biden's campaign has largely stemmed the bleeding, but is still facing serious concerns within the Democratic Party. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki looks back at two examples where Democrats replaced their Senate nominees late in the game in key races.

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Biden slows Democratic defections, but many still fear he can’t beat Trump

By Scott Wong, Ali Vitali, Rebecca Kaplan and Kyle Stewart

President Joe Biden’s insistence that he won’t be forced out of the 2024 race appears to have slowed public Democratic defections — at least for now.

While he’s certainly not in the clear and many Democrats are privately and publicly grumbling that he can’t beat Donald Trump this fall, Biden seems to have largely staunched the bleeding as he and his allies work to shore up support for his beleaguered campaign.

“If the opposition is not unified,” one House Democrat said, “then it’s advantage Biden.”

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At a closed-door gathering of House Democrats on Tuesday, only a handful of Democrats privately raised concerns about Biden’s age and ability to win in November, according to sources in the room. That small gang of defectors included Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., sources said, who had already either publicly or privately called for Biden to step aside.

In a small victory for Biden, longtime Rep. Jerry Nadler, of New York, the top Democrat on the powerful Judiciary Committee, left the meeting appearing resigned to the fact that Biden would be on the top of the ticket. On a private call with fellow committee leaders two days earlier, Nadler had called on Biden to step aside, sources said.

“Whether I have concerns or not is beside the point,” Nadler told reporters Tuesday. “He’s going to be our nominee, and we all have to support him.”

The large majority of lawmakers gathered at the Democratic National Committee headquarters Tuesday said it was time for the party to rally behind Biden.

There is “overwhelming consensus that Biden has decided to stay in the race and we should unify behind him,” said a House Democrat and Biden ally as he left the meeting. “Those with concerns should voice them privately because fait accompli — Biden is the nominee.”

But Biden still lost another House Democrat Tuesday afternoon: Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., called on the president to end his re-election campaign, saying “the stakes are too high — and the threat is too real — to stay silent.”

Senate Democrats also huddled behind closed doors for the first time since Biden’s halting debate performance. Usually chatty senators left the lunch without offering details about what was discussed, only saying that the conversation was “constructive.”

“This was a private family discussion,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.. “Joe Biden has been the best president Michigan has ever had, bringing jobs home.”

Read more from our Capitol Hill team →

🫏 ‘Elite’ company: Biden has attempted to frame his quest to retain his candidacy as him against the “elites” in Washington.

But as NBC News’ Natasha Korecki and Jonathan Allen report, rank-and-file Democrats, party chairs, battleground leaders and elected officials say Biden has it exactly backward.

All along, they say, they’ve had deep concerns about Biden — and fielded reservations from voters, as poll after poll has demonstrated — but have felt powerless to act in the face of a White House and Democratic Party that’s been under Biden’s thumb.

Read more from Natasha and Jon →

What happened the last time Democrats swapped out nominees in high-profile races

By Steve Kornacki

Gauging the fallout from a potential Joe Biden withdrawal from the presidential race is impossible in part because nothing like it has happened before.

Biden is currently his party’s presumptive nominee. This means he secured a majority of pledged delegates during the primary campaign, assuring a first-ballot victory at the Democratic convention. It’s a designation that’s come into use over the last five decades and, in that time, every presumptive nominee from both major parties has been ratified as the actual nominee. And no presidential nominee of a major party has ever dropped out during the general election campaign.

So if Biden were now to exit and be replaced by a different candidate, there’d be no parallel example at the presidential level. But there are a few that at least come close at the statewide level, where parties have — very, very rarely — changed candidates in major competitive races long after the original selection of a nominee.

Perhaps the two most prominent cases both came in 2002, when, for very different reasons, Democrats replaced their Senate nominees in two competitive races. One worked out for them, and one didn’t.

An ethics cloud in New Jersey: The successful candidate switch occurred in New Jersey. Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat, withdrew from his re-election race on the last day of September 2002 over allegations that he had received improper gifts and money from a campaign donor.

The state Supreme Court allowed the Democrats to swap out Torricelli for former Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the November ballot. Lautenberg went on to win by 10 points.

A tragedy in Minnesota: Halfway across the country, it wasn’t a scandal but a tragedy that prompted a second candidate switch by Democrats in 2002. In Minnesota, Sen. Paul Wellstone, something of a national folk hero to liberals, was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 25.

A brief moratorium on campaigning ended after Wellstone’s memorial, where cheers greeted the Democrats as they entered, while jeers were audible for some Republicans, and many of the speeches veered directly into politics.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale entered the race to replace Wellstone as the Democratic nominee for Senate, but went on to narrowly lose to Republican Norm Coleman.

Read more from Steve →

That’s all from the Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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