Why was Gov. Josh Shapiro on the shortlist to succeed Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential race?

Josh Shapiro is in the running — but he’s light-years away from being at the top of the 2024 presidential ticket.

Amid continued Democratic panic over Biden’s lackluster performance in the June 27 debate, Shapiro’s name was added to the list potential shortlists — even if the chances of Biden being replaced on the ticket are extremely slim. Although the Pennsylvania governor has shown no outward signs of running for the position, his name it keeps popping up.

Shapiro is the logical Democratic candidate to name in Pennsylvania, where he remains the most popular elected official in a key battleground state. Although he has not been tested much on the national stage, he is being mentioned with some politicians whose political resumes and national profiles make them more likely successors — If Biden takes the unusual step of resigning.

“There’s a case to be made for Josh,” said Biden fundraiser Alan Kessler. “You don’t win in November if you don’t win Pennsylvania. Does that have any basis in reality? No. It’s not about Josh or [California Gov.] Gavin Newsom or whoever. It’s about what’s realistic.”

For a successor to even be considered, Biden would have to reject the nomination, which The White House stated Wednesday is not considered by him. But The New York Times reported that discussed the possibility with a close ally. Shapiro was scheduled to attend a meeting Wednesday night with Biden and other Democratic governors about the future of his campaign.

If Biden were to decline the nomination, many in the party see Vice President Kamala Harris as the obvious replacement. She would inherit the campaign infrastructure and funding. She has been a loyal part of the administration for three years and is often the go-to voice for Biden’s campaigners on the trail. Leaving her out could alienate her supporters, including some black voters who have already shifted away from Biden in recent polls.

“She’s the vice president,” Kessler said. “She dreams of being president. No one could offer her anything that would satisfy her except the presidency.”

If not Harris, many strategists see more likely choices among governors who have been elected to two terms, such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg ran for president in 2020 and has remained in the spotlight. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who won reelection in 2023, has also gained national attention for his unlikely victory in the traditionally red state.

Shapiro’s name has also emerged among potential vice presidential candidates if Harris is nominated.

Shapiro does not appear to be seeking the nomination. After the debate, he appeared on news shows, defending the president and saying he would “fight like hell” to reelect Biden, while deflecting questions about a potential successor. Even when offered the opportunity to speak off the record, members of his administration have been disciplined and have refused to speculate on the subject.

“He got attention without openly seeking it,” said Mike Mikus, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state.

Conversations with more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers and activists across the state largely revealed a consensus around Shapiro: It’s unlikely to happen, but it makes sense that it’s in play. Still, being part of the conversation now could boost Shapiro’s influence in 2028 or beyond.

The Shapiro Case

There was a buzz in the hallways of Harrisburg last week, with Democrats whispering about potential candidates to succeed Biden — and the slim chance that guy could be Shapiro.

“We’re all fans of Joe Biden. But the alternative is too terrifying to contemplate,” a top Democratic state lawmaker said last week, urging Shapiro to replace Biden at the top of the presidential ticket.

Nationally, Shapiro is seen as a stable candidate.

Shapiro, 51, is a former state lawmaker, Montgomery County commissioner and state attorney general who is credited with helping build the Democratic Party in Philadelphia’s collar counties. He first gained national recognition after winning the state’s attorney general election in 2016, the year former President Donald Trump won the state. Shapiro also gained nationwide attention in 2020 for defending the presidential election results in Pennsylvania against Trump.

He cleaned it up Democratic field to run for governor in 2022, with several Democrats eyeing the job. That showed an understanding of how to build coalitions within the party and negotiate with the state’s diverse Democratic constituencies.

Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s third Jewish governor, has continued to raise his national profile, from his outspoken support for Israel and interventions in debates about anti-Semitism on college campuses to his swift reconstruction of a collapsed section of I-95 last summer. The country has never elected a Jewish president or vice president, but many believe Shapiro could change that.

Shapiro’s favorability rating beats Biden and Trump in Pennsylvania, and he has a built-in argument that his name at the top of the ticket is likely to secure a Democratic victory in the state. are no longer won at the national level, but in six key states.

This week, nationwide polls were conducted shows Shapiro trailing Trump 44% to 48%, which is similar to Buttigieg, Newsom and Whitmer. Both Harris and Biden are doing slightly better in theoretical polls, with support from about 45% of likely voters compared to Trump’s 48%.

Even some Republicans called Shapiro’s candidacy unlikely — but they acknowledged he would be tough to beat in Pennsylvania.

Christian Nascimento, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, said Shapiro could mobilize already highly engaged voters in his home county of Montgomery, the state’s third-most populous county.

Shapiro’s cautious political style and demeanor also came across in conversations with Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania.

“He would be an incredibly solid choice that you could make a lot of arguments for,” the former Senate staffer said. “I think he’s someone that D.C. Democrats would be relieved to have on their ticket, especially in this crazy situation.”

The same staffer said passing over Harris in favor of a white man could be a disastrous decision for Democrats.

Shapiro’s cautious political style may be the best argument for why he is likely not interested in this highly unusual election year.

“He’s a methodical planner,” said Bruce L. Castor Jr., a longtime GOP official who served with Shapiro on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and represented Trump during his second impeachment trial. “I think he would like to see his national organization built, his very good record stamped or embellished with six or seven years as governor of a big state. He wouldn’t want to jump in without all the pieces in place. He can do it in four years; he can’t do it now.”

The Case Against Shapiro

Skeptics wonder how well Shapiro is known outside Pennsylvania. One Pennsylvania Democrat compared the scenario to when Doug Burgum, the Republican governor of North Dakota, ran for president — although Shapiro, as governor of a swing state, has more exposure than Burgum.

“That’s an easy answer for Pennsylvanians and, frankly, for people who think it wins them points with the governor, but I think that’s a load of crap,” said a Democratic Party official from Western Pennsylvania. “I don’t think anyone outside the state has heard of Josh Shapiro.”

While Shapiro scored a big victory in Pennsylvania, defeating state Sen. Doug Mastriano by 14 points and extending Democrats’ lead in Trump strongholds, he also faced a weak opponent.

“Thinking [that] “Beating Doug Mastriano means you can run for president, that’s kind of like winning a Little League game and thinking you can go to the World Series,” the Western Pennsylvania strategist added.

Shapiro is the only undecided governor in a state with divided government, a sign of his ability to work across party lines, but he has only a few years of accomplishments under his belt.

Shapiro was supposed to be participate in a meeting with other Democratic governors and Biden virtually Wednesday as he continues negotiations on his second-ever budget. The state budget was due Sunday for the up-to-date fiscal year starting July 1, and lawmakers seemed hopeful they would have a final product by the end of the weekend.

“We have to wait until he passes two budgets before we start talking about him becoming president,” said a Philadelphia Democratic Party official.

Article co-authored by Katie Bernard.

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