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Biden warns of rights under threat from Trump and 'MAGA extremists' in reelect launch

After months of hinting at a likely bid, President Biden officially announced on Tuesday that he will seek a second term as president of the United States in the 2024 election.

"When I ran for president four years ago, I said we are in a battle for the soul of America. And we still are. The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer," Biden said in a 3-minute video announcing his run.

The video links images from the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol with protests over the Supreme Court decision overturning abortion rights.

At 80, Biden is the oldest person to serve as president, a point that has given Democrats pause, questioning, at times, whether he gives them the best chance at winning. But the former vice president and longtime Delaware senator is unlikely to face a serious challenge for the nomination.

Rank-and-file Democratic voters began to coalesce around the president, as his intention to run became evident.

Half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said in a February NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll that they had a better chance with Biden than someone else. That was a reversal from shortly before the 2022 midterms when a majority said they though they would have a better shot with someone else.

That alternative, however, never emerged. Vice President Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, have had consistently worse favorability ratings.

Biden's entry now sets up a potential rematch with former President Donald Trump, who announced in November that he would also make another run for office. Trump is expected to face a vigorous primary race, though he remains the candidate to beat.

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement that Biden is "out of touch" and blamed him for inflation, crime rates and fentanyl trafficking.

A vulnerable incumbent

The announcement comes four years to the day from the launch of Biden's 2020 campaign — which he also declared via video. But unlike 2020, when there were 19 other candidates already in the crowded race, Biden is not expected to face any serious Democratic contenders this time around.

Biden's win in 2020 was largely a reflection of antipathy toward Trump from a significant portion of the country, and anger over the Trump administration's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the pandemic is largely in the political rearview mirror, and the uncertain economy dominates as Americans' top concern. The economy is an area of vulnerability for Biden. A March NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found just 38% approved of his handling of the economy, including just 28% of independents.

Overall, Biden's approval rating, like Trump's before him, has lagged in the low-40s. It nose-dived several months into his first year in office after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In recent months, views of Biden have stabilized, but he remains in a tenuous position in this hyper-partisan era.

'Soul of our nation' vs. 'Finish the job'

Biden has long credited his family for encouraging him to run in 2020, when he defeated Trump — a win that Trump refused to accept, citing false claims of voter fraud.

Biden's 2024 video features an image of Trump with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a onetime ally and now likely challenger in the Republican race — along with an image of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. — as Biden describes what he calls "MAGA extremists" who he said are "dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love. All while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote."

Biden ran his first campaign on a platform of fighting for "the soul of our nation," arguing that Trump had stirred up racist and antidemocratic sentiment that was hurting the country.

That year, Biden was able to secure the presidency by flipping Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona — states that in 2016 had gone to Trump.

Biden ended Tuesday's campaign announcement with the phrase "let's finish the job," a line he first tested out in his State of the Union address this year.

Biden repeated the phrase 12 times during that speech in February, referring to rebuilding the middle class, capping the cost of insulin, expanding Medicaid, acting on climate change, increasing taxes on billionaires, strengthening antitrust enforcement, getting more affordable housing, funding universal pre-K, increasing vocational job opportunities, pushing for police reform and banning assault-style weapons.

Biden's prospects

On Tuesday, Biden also announced some key members of his campaign team: campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez, who has been the White House point person with governors and mayors during Biden's first term in office, and principal deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks, who ran the campaign of Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in 2022.

Biden has been saying he intended to run for a second term since his earliest days in office. But even Democratic voters have been lukewarm on him. Biden's popularity plunged last year, pressured by concerned over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, then by soaring consumer prices.

But Biden's prospects improved after the midterms. Democrats performed better than anticipated, largely because of activism around abortion rights following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade — and because of the toxicity of many Trump-backed candidates in competitive states and districts.

Biden's policies have largely been popular, including climate and health care measures in the Inflation Reduction Act, and bipartisan spending bills on infrastructure and semiconductors plans. That's helped him to make a strong case for himself for 2024, said Democratic strategist Lis Smith, an adviser to Pete Buttigieg in his 2020 bid.

"Joe Biden has had one of the most successful first two years of any president in recent history," Smith said. "He has been dismissed and discounted at every turn, and still overperformed expectations. I think that he will be a really formidable nominee in 2024 and that Democrats will fully rally behind him."

That is likely to be particularly true if Trump is the Republican nominee, said Jim Messina, who was the campaign manager for former President Barack Obama's reelection campaign in 2012.

"We've already had this race," Messina said of a potential Biden-Trump rematch. "And Trump is now significantly weaker."

The audio story was produced by Lexie Schapitl. [Copyright 2023 NPR]

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