President Joe Biden has won enough delegates to clinch the 2024 Democratic nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden, who took office aiming to steady a nation convulsed by the coronavirus pandemic and the Jan. 6 insurrection, clinched a second straight Democratic nomination Tuesday and set up an all−but−certain rematch with the predecessor he blames for destabilizing the country.

Biden became his party’s presumptive nominee when he won enough delegates in Georgia. That pushed Biden’s count past 1,968 for a majority of delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this August, where his nomination will be made official. Former President Donald Trump is expected to clinch the Republican nomination shortly.

Biden, who mounted his first bid for president 37 years ago, did not face any serious Democratic challengers to his run for reelection at age 81. That’s despite facing low approval ratings and a lack of voter enthusiasm for his presidency — driven in part by his age.

Just 38% of U.S. adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president while 61% disapprove, according to a recent survey by The Associated Press−NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Biden and his allies are betting that over a bruising seven−and−a−half−month general election, his Democratic base and independent voters fearful of a second Trump presidency will stand with him despite their misgivings. Their strategy to constantly highlight Trump’s perceived shortcomings — combined with Trump’s plan to attack Biden in brutally personal terms — sets up an spiritless campaign that many Americans said they didn’t want but will have to decide in November anyway.

Biden has tried to frame the race as a battle for freedom, both at home and abroad. He contrasts his support for Ukraine and work to expand NATO with Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his suggestion that he would tell Russia to attack NATO allies he considers delinquent.

Biden is pushing back on GOP−led efforts to restrict abortion rights that have also jeopardized in vitro fertilization procedures. Democrats credit the backlash to the Supreme Court overturning a federal right to abortion for electoral victories over the last two years. Trump appointed three of the justices who voted to strike down Roe v. Wade and had taken credit for the decision.

But despite major accomplishments and what his allies see as advantages on key issues, Biden enters a rematch with Trump with vulnerabilities he can’t easily fix.

The legislator in chief

In his first two years in office, Biden signed into law long−term investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure as well as spending to boost America’s semiconductor industry. The Senate confirmed Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court and made Ketanji Brown Jackson the first Black woman to become a justice.

The U.S. emerged from the COVID−19 pandemic in an economic boom with low unemployment. After Trump fought his 2020 election loss on the basis of debunked theories about fraud, Biden signed an overhaul of the Electoral Count Act intended to make it harder for presidential losers to overturn election results in Congress.

And as Russia began massing troops on Ukraine’s borders, Biden administration officials warned Putin not to invade, then declassified intelligence to build international support for Kyiv. Backed by weapons and intelligence from the U.S. and Western Europe, Ukraine resisted Russian plans to replace President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a puppet government and has kept most of its territory against its much larger foe.

But the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan left indelible images of desperate people trying to flee a country that American troops fought to secure for two decades and lost in a matter of months to the Taliban. Thirteen U.S. troops died in a suicide bombing outside the Kabul airport during the evacuation of American citizens and allies.

With the economic growth came surging inflation that raised basic prices for Americans and ate into the income gains many people made. Inflation has slowed from its highs two years ago, but just 34% of U.S. adults say they agree with how Biden has handled the economy, according to an AP−NORC survey.

And after campaigning to reverse Trump’s immigration crackdown, Biden’s White House struggled to process record numbers of people crossing the U.S.−Mexico border without authorization — sometimes thousands of people a day. Republican states sent migrants on buses to Democratic−led cities that struggled to shelter them.

A question of age

Biden’s campaign has argued the White House has tamped down inflation and proposed border legislation that would give agents new powers to stop migrants that Republicans helped negotiate, only to reject.

But the president can’t alter one of voters’ deepest concerns with his candidacy — his age.

Already the oldest−ever American president, Biden would be 86 if he served out the entirety of a second term. Regardless of the November outcome, he or Trump would be the oldest leader ever sworn in on Inauguration Day 2025.

Just hours before clinching the nomination, Biden was the subject of hours of testimony from a special counsel who investigated his mishandling of classified documents and determined that he couldn’t prosecute the president in part because he was too forgetful. The prosecutor, Robert Hur, characterized Biden in his report as someone who presented as “a sympathetic, well−meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

The president’s age has become a key vulnerability on the campaign trail, though many voters share the same concerns about Trump, who is 77. The latest AP−NORC survey found that 63% say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president. And 57% said the same of Trump.

In both his State of the Union speech and a new campaign ad, Biden emphasized the value of experience and mixed in a dose of humor.

As he told Congress last week: “I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while. When you get to be my age, certain things become clearer than ever.”

An angry electorate

Biden argues he’s proven to be a more effective leader than Trump. He and the Democrats also hold a significant cash advantage over Trump and the Republicans going into November, with the president raising $10 million in the 24 hours after the speech.

There’s evidence his campaign’s focus on Trump is already working. Every major Democrat took a pass on challenging Biden in the primary and no Democrat has agreed to join a well−funded effort by the group No Labels to put together a so−called “unity ticket.”

One of the few Democrats who did run before dropping out was Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Before Minnesota’s Super Tuesday primary last week, many people angry with Biden said they weren’t aware of Phillips’ challenge or considered it a distraction from beating Trump.

Said one voter, Aishah Al−Sehaim of St. Louis Park, Minnesota, “It’s not even about hope to affect change in the coming years, but simply that things don’t get more screwed up nationally and internationally.”

Biden’s allies are optimistic that a protest vote campaign over Israel’s war with Hamas will subside by November when liberals and people of color angry about the more than 30,000 people killed in Israel’s offensive after the Oct. 7 attacks will be forced to choose between him and Trump.

In 2012, then−President Barack Obama also saw a number of “uncommitted” delegates emerge from uncontested primaries, particularly in conservative states.

“In terms of where he is now, he’s been in tougher spots and I know he feels confident,” said longtime Biden confidant and former Delaware Sen. Ted Kaufman. “I sure feel confident.”

Biden first ran for the Democratic nomination ahead of the 1988 presidential election, but flamed out when it emerged he had plagiarized speeches. His 2008 campaign ended after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses and his 2020 effort was on life support before he turned it around with a win in the South Carolina primary, ultimately consolidating the support of the party.

“Sure beats the hell out of the alternative,” quipped Kaufman of the easier path to the nomination this time around. “That doesn’t mean it’s not tough, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t take character."

Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

Photo: AP