Biden’s trip to Madison is seen as key to reviving the ailing election campaign

Rebellious President Joe Biden vowed Friday in Madison to continue his bitter campaign against former President Donald Trump, telling supporters gathered at Sherman Middle School that he is the Democratic Party’s nominee and will not allow others to “push him out of the race.”

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President Joe Biden speaks at Sherman Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday, July 5, 2024. SAMANTHA MADAR, STATE JOURNAL


“Let me say this as clearly as possible: I am staying in the race,” Biden said at the start of a crucial series of appearances and interviews aimed at pulling his campaign out of the nosedive since his disastrous debate against Trump last week.

The appearance in Madison was followed by a prime-time interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that was seen as a key test of his fitness for office. In the interview, he called his debate performance a “bad episode” and said there was “no evidence of a serious condition.”

“I didn’t listen to my instincts in preparing,” Biden told Stephanopoulos in an excerpt that aired early Friday evening.

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Speaking to about 300 supporters gathered at Sherman Gym, Biden again acknowledged that he had a weak debate last week. He said he “can’t say it was my best performance,” but amid speculation about what he will do, he had an answer: “I’m running, and I’m going to win again.”

“I will beat Donald Trump,” an energetic Biden said as the crowd cheered and waved campaign signs.

Then, in another unforced error, he said, “I’ll beat him again in 2020,” before correcting himself. “And by the way, we’ll do it again in 2024.”

Almost from the beginning of his brief speech, Biden attacked his likely Republican challenger, citing the former president’s statement: “George Washington’s army won the revolution by taking control of the airports from the British.”

As the crowd laughed, Biden continued, “That’s a mistake on my part.”

While private anxiety has been high among Democratic lawmakers, donors and strategists since the debate, most in the party are publicly holding back, waiting to see if the president can restore some confidence with his weekend travel schedule and his handling of the Stephanopoulos interview.

Most people in Madison seemed to want him to stay in the race. Some said they were confident Biden was still mentally and physically fit for the job. Others were less sure, but stressed that the election was a choice between two parties – not just two candidates. Some said Biden’s record speaks in his favor.

Election 2024 Biden

President Joe Biden lands on Air Force One at Dane County Regional Airport on Friday to attend a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

“This is an absolute turning point for our country,” said Dan Raasch, who traveled from Oconomowoc for the event.

A few attendees dressed up for the event, including Jean Larocque of Madison, who painted the word “VOTE” in white on her black T-shirt and matching top hat.

“My heart is with him,” she said of Biden.

However, not everyone agreed that Biden should be the nominee. Emma McAleavy, a Madison resident and longtime Biden supporter, said she believes it is time for him to step down.

“I really hope he does the right thing and passes the torch,” McAleavy said.

There were also some signs of discontent at Friday’s rally, with one supporter waving a sign on stage that read “Pass the torch, Joe” as the president took the stage.

Across the street from the school, dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters lined the sidewalk and chanted slogans against the president’s support of Israel in the war against Hamas. The issue is a sensitive one for Democrats, who are divided over their longstanding support of Israel and shocked by the scale of the devastation in Gaza, which has left more than 35,000 dead and up to 2 million displaced, according to Palestinian health officials.

“Joe, stop the Gaza cleanup,” the group shouted, and “Biden, Biden, how many children do you say you killed today?”

In the Democratic primaries in April, Biden received more than 511,000 votes, or 88.6 percent. But more than 48,000 voters, or 8.3 percent, chose the “uninstructed delegation” option – probably encouraged by activists who wanted to express their opposition to his administration’s stance toward Israel and its handling of the Gaza war.

Within the Sherman School, Biden tried to directly counter criticism that he had become too old and too insecure for the job.

“I was not too old to create over 50 million new jobs,” he said, or to work with big pharmaceutical companies to push through a reduction in insulin costs.

“Was I too old to forgive the student debt of over five million Americans? Too old to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court of the United States? To sign the Respect for Marriage Act?”

In a series of questions in a chant-style format, Biden asked his supporters: “Do you think I’m too old to put Roe v. Wade back into the law,” to ban assault weapons and protect Social Security?

Biden’s motorcade arrived at Sherman Middle School on Friday.

“No,” the crowd shouted back after each question.

In his own remarks before Biden’s speech, Governor Tony Evers thanked the administration for its help to the state, citing news earlier this week that Wisconsin had been designated a regional technology hub that will generate $49 million over five years to expand the state’s biohealth industry.

“This deserves a holy mackerel,” he said.

Many Democratic lawmakers hearing from their constituents at home during the holiday week are divided over whether Biden should stay or go. Lawmakers are deeply frustrated with his campaign’s response to the crisis. Private debates flared among House Democrats this week as word spread that some of them were writing public letters urging the president to drop out of the race.

But opposition from other Democrats in the House was fierce, and none of the allegedly discussed letters from Democrats seeking re-election or running in easier races were ever made public.

“Any ‘leader’ who signs a letter calling on President Biden to resign needs to get their priorities straight and stop undermining this incredible actual leader who has delivered real results for our country,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Florida), an influential member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Biden’s re-election campaign is moving ahead with aggressive plans despite the uncertainty, coupling Biden’s in-person events this month with a new $50 million advertising campaign targeting high-viewing moments such as the Summer Olympics in Paris starting July 26.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff are scheduled to travel to all swing states this month. As part of a new $17 million campaign, organizers plan to knock on more than three million doors in July and August to speak to voters in person.

Biden himself is scheduled to campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday. He was originally scheduled to speak to the National Education Association in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the campaign team canceled the plans after the group announced a strike on Friday. The president will not break a strike line, the campaign team said.

He will also travel to southwestern states, including Nevada, after hosting the NATO summit in Washington next week, the campaign said Friday. He will also continue to focus his travels on the so-called “blue wall” states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – that have been key to him in the past.

In a strategy memo released Friday morning, the campaign team also explicitly emphasized that Biden would “frequently participate in spontaneous moments” – once a hallmark of the gregarious, affable politician’s career, however, these moments have become increasingly rare over the course of his presidency.

Every moment is crucial for Biden to restore the trust lost by his shaky performance in Atlanta last week, but the president has repeatedly made slip-ups that have not helped that effort.

In an interview with Philadelphia radio station WURD that aired Thursday, Biden slipped up and said, “I’m proud, as I said, to be the first female vice president, the first black woman to serve under a black president” — mixing up some of his oft-used phrases about his pride in serving under the first black president and selecting the first black woman as vice president.

Such verbal slip-ups are nothing unusual for Biden, but they attract increased attention in this environment.


Supporters cheer before President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign rally at Sherman Middle School in Madison on Friday.

Morris Gash, Associated Press

Associated Press writers Joey Cappelletti in Saugatuck, Michigan, and Mary Clare Jalonick, Aamer Madhani, Lisa Mascaro and Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

State Journal reporter Adam Kelnhofer, Nicole Pollack and Seth Nelson and Associated Press reporters Colleen Long, Seung Min Kim, Joey Cappelletti, Todd Richmond, Dylan Lovan, Mary Clare Jalonick, Aamer Madhani, Lisa Mascaro and Josh Boak contributed to this report.

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