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If Biden were to end his reelection bid, what happens next for Democrats?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Biden campaign insists the president is staying in the race after his bad debate performance. Democrats say Biden is the nominee unless he were to decide otherwise. He won his party's primaries, after all, and he's earned nearly all the convention delegates to the Democratic convention in August. Most of the party publicly supports him, though a few potential contenders are preparing just in case. Our co-host Steve Inskeep spoke earlier with CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere, who's been tracking those contenders.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What have they been doing the last few days?

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE: Well, from the reporting that I've done, starting a couple minutes into the debate and non-stop since then, their phones have been filling up with text messages, e-mails, phone calls. I said to a number of them, did you get more or fewer than 300 texts during the debate? And most of them said more.

INSKEEP: Wow.

DOVERE: And they're trying to figure out what it would look like to run a very, very strange campaign over a short amount of time - at most a couple of weeks, perhaps even just a couple of days during the convention in Chicago - and where their levels of support would be, who their potential competition really would be and how to get a leg up over anybody else who's in the conversation.

INSKEEP: I am remembering stories from many months ago about how at least one of these people, J.B. Pritzker, the governor of Illinois who has a lot of money, was at least preparing, wanting to be on the bench and ready. Are there a lot of these potential contenders who had previously thought through scenarios like this?

DOVERE: Well, it's people who have thought through it before and people who are thinking it through now. I don't think that we have two mysterious group of names here. It would probably have to be a person with a pretty large and sophisticated operation already, people around them who know what to do and at least some level of awareness, name identification among the delegates who would be at the convention, but also beyond that. Whitmer, Pritzker, Gavin Newsom in California. Mark Kelly, the senator from Arizona, Raphael Warnock, the senator from Georgia, maybe some of the newer governors like Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania. That is where the thinking largely is.

INSKEEP: Does Vice President Harris have any built-in advantage?

DOVERE: Vice President Harris is the one who has the most advantage going into this, if this is what is actually going to happen, for a number of reasons. If Biden were to step aside, many people think it would be very difficult for him to not tap a successor, and for that successor to not be Kamala Harris. Also, she would have a lot of resonance, presumably, among Black voters and women voters because she is the first Black and female vice president. And it seems like many people assume that the feelings of trying to pass her over would be politically fraught. Some people that I have spoken to, including Donna Brazile, the former chair of the DNC, said to me - using a profanity that I won't put to your listeners here - how are all these white people going to get ahead of Kamala?

And there is also an important thing that she would have access to, which is the money and infrastructure of the Biden campaign. Because importantly, it's not actually the Biden campaign - it's the Biden-Harris campaign. And therefore, she could take over everything that exists right now, including all that fundraising that they've done, legally without it being an issue. Anybody else would have to figure out some way of transferring the money to the DNC, what they would fund separately, how they would raise the money. She would be able to move in right away.

INSKEEP: Have any of the potential contenders gotten in trouble for leaning a little too far forward?

DOVERE: Well, like, there was a fundraising text that went out from Gretchen Whitmer's PAC - her political action committee - on Friday evening that was flagged to me by a number of people who work for other people who might want to be president in this situation, or at least the nominee. Whitmer's folks had scheduled that e-mail before Thursday. It's the end of the fundraising quarter on June 30. So that's what was going on there, but no one who is involved thinks that there will be a benefit to being, let's say, the one who would step out and call for Joe Biden to go.

INSKEEP: Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat, leading member of Congress, said over the weekend on TV that Democrats were having, quote, "honest and serious conversations." From what you hear, what are those conversations like in the wider Democratic Party?

DOVERE: Those conversations are, can Donald Trump win over Joe Biden at this point? How much of a lost cause is Joe Biden, or is there a way to recover from this? Of course, this is a big election year with a lot on the line. And I should say, those conversations got a little more heated on Monday after the Supreme Court case deciding that a president would have at least some immunity from prosecutions, saying, this is even more cause why Democrats have to figure out how to stop Trump from getting back to the White House. To them, this decision makes all of the reasons why they were upset about Trump potentially coming back even in sharper relief.

INSKEEP: Eventful summer. Edward-Isaac Dovere, thanks so much.

DOVERE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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