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‘I Know I’m Not a Young Man’: Biden Confronts Doubts During Forceful Rally

US‘I Know I’m Not a Young Man’: Biden Confronts Doubts During Forceful Rally


President Biden on Friday tried to beat back doubts about his fitness following a disjointed debate performance the night before, firing up a crowd of supporters with an energetic speech that accused former President Donald J. Trump of being a “one-man crime wave.”

Speaking to a boisterous crowd of 2,000 people, Mr. Biden, 81, directly confronted questions about his age and insisted that he would never have run for re-election if he didn’t think he was up to the job of being president.

“I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious,” he said, setting off roars of approval in the fairgrounds hanger and chants of “Joe! Joe!” from the crowd. “I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know. I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong.”

Delivering his remarks from a Teleprompter, and freed from rules that required him to hold his own, without notes, for 90 minutes, the president appeared to find the energy and clarity that had eluded him in the Atlanta debate.

With the stakes sky high as Democrats around the country openly discussed whether he should abandon his bid for a second term, Mr. Biden repeatedly cast the election as a choice between right and wrong, morality and criminality, an honest man and a convicted criminal.

But the event, planned before the debate, also conveyed a sense of political desperation. The president and his supporters knew he needed to rebound quickly from the damage the debate had done to his campaign. Mr. Biden vowed to do what he has done in the face of decades of personal and political crises.

“I know what millions of Americans know,” he said, raising his voice and clenching his fist. “When you get knocked down, you get back up.”

Mr. Biden largely ignored the party anxiety swirling around him and did not mention the calls by some high-profile Democrats that he consider stepping aside — the kind of breach that is almost unheard-of this close to a major party’s nominating convention.

Instead, Mr. Biden kicked off what aides described as a messaging blitz aimed at repairing the obvious political damage less than five months from Election Day. Vice President Kamala Harris had a rally planned in Las Vegas and a flurry of campaign surrogates were sent to the closest television cameras available armed with talking points about Mr. Trump.

By the early afternoon, Mr. Biden’s best surrogate, former President Barack Obama, had weighed in with a social media post aimed at calming Democrats down.

“Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know,” Mr. Obama wrote on X, referring to his widely panned first debate in 2012 against Sen. Mitt Romney. “But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life and someone who only cares about himself. Between someone who tells the truth; who knows right from wrong and will give it to the American people straight — and someone who lies through his teeth for his own benefit.”

The campaign event Friday was unlike most of Mr. Biden’s recent stops on the trail. His supporters waved signs and cheered “Let’s go, Joe,” as local politicians rallied the crowd, asking those present to “get noisy” for rappers E40 and Fat Joe.

The president’s debate performance was not mentioned at all by any of his warm-up acts except for his wife, Jill, who said only that “what you saw on the debate stage last night was Joe Biden, a president with integrity and character.”

Douglas Dib, 71, a Democratic volunteer in Wake County, North Carolina’s most populated county, which includes Raleigh, the capital, said he left the rally on Friday wishing the President Biden who took the stage there would have shown up on Thursday night.

“When I came here today, I was hoping I’d see what I saw,” Mr. Dib said. “And what I saw is a man who understood what happened last night and this is the beginning of him speaking very directly to the American people from the heart. He’s on his way back.”

But some in the crowd seemed more resigned than enthusiastic, describing themselves as disappointed with Mr. Biden’s shaky delivery during the debate and doubtful of other options that may be possible at this late hour.

“His age has concerned me from the very beginning,” said Amanda Robertson, a Democratic candidate for a county commission seat in North Carolina who attended Mr. Biden’s rally. “I mean, it’s concerned a lot of Americans. I know that. And certainly watching him last night, his age showed. And that’s hard.”

Ms. Robertson said she supported the president and admired his policies but was worried about how he might be perceived after his debate performance on Thursday. She said it is too late to find a different candidate.

“I think that they need to get behind the candidate that they chose. That all of us chose,” she said. “Certainly, six months ago, I would’ve said, ‘Hey, let’s look around and see if we’ve got a younger candidate.’”

Inside the campaign bubble in North Carolina, Mr. Biden’s advisers and many of those cheering in the crowd seemed disconnected from the panic among Democrats.

The president’s aides churned out optimistic election data points and said the campaign had raised $14 million on Thursday, including what they claimed was a big jump in grass roots donations in the hour or two after the debate. They cited internal polling data, which they did not share, that showed voters had disliked Mr. Trump’s aggressive temperament. In a memo released early Friday morning, they focused on Mr. Trump.

“In a survey of undecided voters in a Midwest state, debate watchers agreed that President Biden won the debate, and the more they saw of Donald Trump’s erratic and vindictive behavior, the more they remembered why they voted against him in 2020,” wrote Becca Siegel and Meg Schwenzfeier, who lead the campaign’s data analytics efforts.

The glass-half-full approach was a striking contrast to the agonizing taking place in just about every other corner of the Democratic Party.

Nancy Pelosi, the former Democratic House speaker, said that “from a performance standpoint it wasn’t great.” Nadia B. Ahmad, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida, urged Mr. Biden to drop out, calling it “painfully clear that Biden cannot win in November.” Julián Castro, a former cabinet secretary, called the night a “cascade of mistakes.” And the Rev. Al Sharpton said “Biden did not rise to the occasion.”

Still, some of Mr. Biden’s hard-core supporters were undaunted by his debate performance. Megan Thacker, a 38-year-old middle school teacher, compared Mr. Biden’s performance to the standardized tests she administers to her students every year.

“It’s one time. This was one debate,” she said. “Let’s talk about the overall four years for both candidates. It doesn’t give me any pause or concern whatsoever for this administration.”

She hoped Mr. Biden would show “a sense of security, a sense of hope, some strength” in his remarks. Ms. Porter added: “I think you have to look at the past four years versus just 90 minutes.”



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