Joe Biden enters crucial phase of his endangered presidential campaign

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden it was opened on Thursday critical episode in his effort to save his threatened re-election campaign, facing a growing sense that he has just a few days to make a convincing case that he is fit for the job before Democratic support for him evaporates completely.

After Biden’s disastrous performance in last week’s debate with Republican Donald Trump, some financial backers have been holding off on the organization or canceling upcoming fundraisers, according to a person familiar with the plans who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Biden told the crowd gathered Thursday for a Fourth of July barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House.

During a meeting Wednesday night with Democratic governors, Biden acknowledged that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can get to bed earlier and be rested for work, according to three people familiar with the meeting who also spoke on condition of anonymity. One person said the president joked that his health is fine, it’s his brain that’s struggling.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was at the meeting, was asked Thursday about the idea that Biden wanted to restrict events after 8 p.m. and replied: “He did it with a smile on his face. It was more of a rhetorical approach to just being fit and well-rested.”

Newsom, who campaigned for Biden in western Michigan, added: “I like it when the president acknowledges that he is human.”

In an interview with a Wisconsin radio station that aired Thursday, Biden argued that much more than his own political future was at stake, saying: “The stakes are really high. I know you know that. For democracy, for freedom … our economy, everything is on the line.”

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The interview on Earl Ingram’s show on the Civic Media Radio Network, taped Wednesday, was part of a media outreach campaign that the Democratic president and his staff have viewed as a defining moment.

At the Fourth of July barbecue, Biden formally welcomed military families from the podium, but then went to greet the crowd personally for a few moments before suddenly grabbing a microphone and standing in the middle of the grass, explaining that thousands of people were waiting to get into the party and that he had to duck back inside because the grounds were closed while he was there.

“Keep fighting!” shouted one of the fans.

“You got me, man,” Biden replied.

He also mentioned Trump, who in 2018 canceled a visit to a World War I cemetery in France that Biden recently visited.

The president is scheduled to campaign in Wisconsin on Friday and give an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos; the interview will air as a prime-time special that evening.

He plans to arrive in Philadelphia on Sunday and attend a news conference during the NATO summit in Washington next week.

It’s not certain his campaign will even survive that long unless he delivers a mighty showing on ABC. Talks that were once whispers who should stand in his place, or should he bow out are getting louder and louder.

For now, Biden has no intention of backing down, and he has made that clear in conversations with Democratic governors, close allies and his campaign staff.

But time is running out for a possible change. The Democratic National Committee announced a few weeks ago that it would hold a virtual roll call for a formal nomination before the party’s national convention, which begins Aug. 19.

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“I’m proud to be running for re-election as a president who made promises and I delivered on them,” Biden said in a radio interview.

“I had a bad night. Bad night. I screwed up,” he said of the debate, in which he gave uncertain and convoluted answers.

“But 90 minutes on stage won’t erase what I did for 3.5 years,” he said in another interview with WURD.

In private, Biden has focused on how to turn the tide after a complex debate and has emphasized the crucial nature of this year’s presidential election.

During one conversation, when asked what would happen if his efforts to change course failed, Biden emphasized that he understood the importance of race and that he would put the country first, according to a person who spoke directly with the president, who was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Biden’s meeting Wednesday night with Democratic governors lasted more than an hour and drew more than 20 people, some in person and some virtually. They later described the conversation as “candid” and said they stood by Biden despite concerns about Trump winning in November. Details of Biden’s comments about getting more sleep were first reported by The New York Times.

During that meeting, Biden told the leaders that he had been examined by his doctor after speaking at the debate, according to two people familiar with the conversations who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private conversation. Hours earlier, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had not been examined by a doctor.

The White House faulted Biden for his debate performance, during which he appeared pale and his raspy voice trailed off at times, for coldsBiden also admitted he felt jet lag after two consecutive foreign trips that ended 12 days earlier.

Biden’s staff has resisted repeated calls for more detailed medical records for the 81-year-old presidentAfter his last full physical in February, his doctor said he about fitness for service.

Two Democratic lawmakers publicly called on Biden to withdraw from the raceBut most Democratic lawmakers are taking a wait-and-see approach, waiting for a better sense of how things will play out through modern polls and a television interview, according to Democratic lawmakers who requested anonymity to speak openly about the president.

Some have suggested that Vice President Kamala Harris is emerging as the frontrunner to replace Biden if he were to withdraw. People involved in private discussions say Newsom from California and the governor. Gretchen Whitmer Michigan remains a viable alternative. But some insiders see Harris as the best candidate to quickly unite the party and avoid a cluttered and divisive convention fight.

Newsom was asked directly whether he would support Harris if Biden withdrew. He said, “I don’t even like to speculate.”

The video shows Trump declaring Harris to be his modern rival, saying “she’s so pathetic.” It’s unclear when he made the comments, which were posted on his social media account.

On Thursday night, Trump called for a second debate, “but this time with no restrictions… just the two of us on stage.”

While other Democratic allies have been tranquil since the debate, privately there has been growing frustration with the Biden campaign’s response at a key moment in the campaign — particularly because Biden waited several days before he could directly limit the damage to senior members of his own party.

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