Can Joe Biden Be Replaced on the Democratic Ticket? What the DNC Rules Say About Switching Nominees

States already locked their votes in for Biden during the Democratic primaries, leaving the incumbent president with a difficult and time-sensitive choice over how he responds to concerns about his age

<p> ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/Getty </p> President Joe Biden participates in the first 2024 presidential debate on June 27


President Joe Biden participates in the first 2024 presidential debate on June 27

Joe Biden's candidacy is being called into question just four months out from the 2024 presidential election, as a rough news cycle over his first presidential debate performance left strategists worried about whether he can inspire voters enough to secure a second term.

On Thursday, June 27, Biden faced off with Donald Trump in CNN's Atlanta studios, struggling to fact-check Trump's false claims in live time and fumbling his words at moments while trying to speak on his achievements and platform.

Related: First 2024 Presidential Debate Recap: Joe Biden Sparks Concerns, Donald Trump Lies

Incumbent presidents often lose their first debates, because their White House track record is an easy target for criticism from the outside candidate, but this debate was unusual in that both Biden and Trump have worked from the Oval Office before — and both candidates, aged 81 and 78, are under added scrutiny over their cognitive health.

While one debate performance isn't usually enough to tank an entire campaign, the rumor mill is already working in overdrive to contemplate what a new Democratic ticket could look like. Here is what could theoretically happen if the party urged Biden to step aside before the Democratic National Convention.

<p>Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty</p> Donald Trump and Joe Biden at the first 2024 presidential debate on June 27

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty

Donald Trump and Joe Biden at the first 2024 presidential debate on June 27

Is Biden Already Locked into the Democratic Ticket?

The most likely way for Biden to exit the race would be to do so willingly, as 3,900 pledged delegates (more than enough needed to clinch the nomination) are already locked in for the president ahead of the party convention, which begins on Aug. 19.

The Democratic National Committee's charter mandates that all the delegates won by a candidate during the primaries must remain bound to support him at the party's national convention. From the charter: “Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.”

There is a stipulation, though: that the candidate decides to leave the race on their own.

Related: Joe Biden Plans to Stay in the Race and Remains Committed to Second Presidential Debate in September: Report

Even if Biden were to exit the race, it remains unclear who would replace him as the party's candidate — or how that person would be chosen. The party charter includes no mechanism for it to replace a candidate prior to the convention, and no major party has ever replaced a candidate in such a manner. It would essentially become a free-for-all as interested politicians begin lobbying delegates for a chance at the nomination.

There's another wrinkle leading up to the 2024 election: that Democrats previously moved up the timeline to nominate Biden so that he can appear on the Ohio ballot in November. Though a date has not been set, Biden will be nominated virtually before Aug. 7, which is Ohio's ballot deadline.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris

Would Biden Ever Back Out of the Race?

Biden's team has continued to project confidence that the incumbent can defeat Trump a second time in November, emphasizing the Republican's shortcomings during the debate in campaign messaging. As of now, it seems unlikely that he would drop out — a move that would be unprecedented in American politics.

An adviser told CNN on Friday, June 28, that Biden not only plans to stay in the race, but will still be participating in the second presidential debate, which is scheduled for September.

Privately, of course, there is at least a conversation in Democratic circles about considering the options, but it's only a murmur at this point and the choice largely comes down to Biden and his most trusted allies, who would have to get on board. The risk of swapping out a candidate so close to an election — and redirecting Biden's massive campaign operation — makes it an unlikely option.

Related: Joe Biden Sees Strongest Grassroots Fundraising Hour Since Campaign Launched After Muffled Debate Performance

Who Would Replace Biden If He Wasn't the Nominee?

Everything is speculation right now, and with little precedent, it's hard to know who would replace Biden in the event of an abrupt exit. Polling involving other major Democratic politicians has previously suggested that swapping in a new person would hurt Democrats' chances at defeating Trump, though that could change if the hypothetical polling became a reality.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is Biden's 2024 running mate, would be an obvious contender who could potentially catch up to Biden's polling numbers considering their similar track records. The Biden-Harris campaign would also have an easier time campaigning for Harris, since she is already a vital part of their election strategy.

But in a general election race this tight, and with Harris' mediocre approval ratings, she would not necessarily be the most appealing choice for skeptical voters who would undoubtedly push for a chance at someone less intertwined with Biden's legacy.

Related: Vice President Kamala Harris' Career in Photos

Before the first presidential debate even ended, California Gov. Gavin Newsom's name was already being tossed around as a potential replacement. He has long been rumored to be mulling an eventual White House bid, and he excels with energizing voters and communicating a message. After the debate on Thursday night, he was in the spin room defending Biden's performance to reporters and shutting down rumors that he is vying to slide into the role.

Justin Sullivan/Getty California Gov. Gavin Newsom
Justin Sullivan/Getty California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Midwest governors have also sparked online buzz, particularly Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was once on Biden's VP shortlist. Both have proven to be good campaigners and productive lawmakers.

And former 2020 presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, who is now the secretary of transportation, and Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator, both built momentum in the party four years ago.

The list could go on forever, and that's why unifying behind a replacement would prove so difficult this late in the game.

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