First lady Jill Biden tells supporters in Columbus that President Biden is ‘all in’

President’s wife courts military votes, calls Trump ‘evil’ in Georgia campaign stop

COLUMBUS — First lady Jill Biden, at times joined by refrains of a few hundred supporters chanting “four more years!” during a presidential campaign rally here Monday evening, said her husband is “all in” to continue his reelection bid and called former President Donald Trump “evil.”

But the first lady avoided deeply addressing the issue still front-and-center on many voters’ minds: whether her husband is fit to embark on another four-year term.

Her appearance in Georgia was a third stop in as many states during a day spent crisscrossing the South, with earlier visits to North Carolina and Florida, to further the campaign drumbeat for husband Joe Biden’s candidacy in the wake of his shaky debate performance against Trump in Atlanta on June 27.

Her Monday campaign swing also launched Veterans and Military Families for Biden-Harris, an initiative to mobilize those connected to the armed forces. The Columbus area is home to Fort Moore, a sprawling Army post.

“As commander in chief, President Biden wakes up every morning ready to work for you,” the first lady said. “Because you are what this election is all about. For all the talk out there about this race, Joe has made it clear that he’s all in. That’s the decision that he’s made. And just as he has always supported my career, I’m all in too. And I know you are, too, or you wouldn’t be here today.”

Jill Biden speaks during a campaign event held by Veterans and Military Families for Biden-Harris in Columbus on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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The first lady spoke on the northside of downtown at the Bibb Mill Event Center, inside what was, a century ago, a thriving textile operation on the eastern bank of the Chattahoochee River along the Alabama border.

Concerns about Joe Biden’s mental fitness in the wake of his recent debate with Trump have prompted some Democrats to call for Biden, who is 81 years old, to step aside.

Gloria Tyson, an Army veteran and Democratic organizer in Columbus, introduced the first lady onstage. Tyson, asked later if she thought Jill Biden had sufficiently addressed the matter of the president’s health, said some in the crowd “probably did” want to hear more.

“But it’s not even needed. … His cognitive skills are there,” said Tyson, 67, who runs a child-development center.

Another attendee, Louise Hurless, the executive director of the Columbus Area Habitat for Humanity, said she sensed that the first lady said enough to rally support for the president.

“I don’t think you should dwell on things sometimes. If you’re going to keep moving forward, you have to keep moving forward,” Hurless, 64, said, adding that watching the debate “was tough. … But everyone has a bad day.”

In remarks that went on for about eight minutes Monday night, Jill Biden touched on the president’s backing of programs for veterans.

“With four more years, Joe will continue to fight for you, the military community that he, that we, are humbled and proud to call our own,” she said.

She blasted Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, for allegedly during a 2018 trip to France referring to U.S. soldiers who had been caught or killed in war as “suckers” and “losers.” Trump has denied making the comments.

“He’s evil,” Jill Biden told the crowd Monday.

She also brought up the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity.

“Our democracy cannot withstand a Trump presidency with virtually no limits,” she said. “Service members honor their oath to support and defend the Constitution. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do the same.”

Jill Biden greets supporters after speaking at a campaign event held by Veterans and Military Families for Biden-Harris in Columbus on Monday, July 8, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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The site of Monday’s event lies less than 32 miles southwest of Warm Springs and the Little White House made famous by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During the 1944 campaign, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt staunchly supported an ailing FDR, who died in April 1945, five months and five days after winning reelection.

Earlier in the day in downtown Columbus, some Muscogee County residents were unaware of the first lady’s visit, word of which wasn’t widely reported locally until Saturday evening.

Kim Aguirre, a personal-care assistant and likely Democratic voter come November, sat in the shade with a client on a 2nd Avenue sidewalk.

“I feel like we’re in trouble,” Aguirre, 47, said of the populace in general. “I don’t know if Biden is going to be able to go another four years, looking at his health and his age. And I’m just going to be honest with you. … I just don’t trust Trump.”

Of the debate less than two weeks ago, Aguirre said, “I watched as much as I could.”

She couldn’t say whether the first lady’s vocal support of her husband’s candidacy will put Democratic voters at ease.

“I think everybody’s concerned about his health, and will he be able to make it the four years to live up to all of what he said he’s going to do,” Aguirre said.

At a McDonald’s about three blocks away on Veterans Parkway, customer Wanda Hall was dining in on a $5 Meal Deal: a double cheeseburger with four chicken nuggets, fries and a drink. She was aware that Jill Biden would be in town later in the afternoon.

“They’re trying to ensure getting the Georgia votes again. … Which I hope they do,” Hall said. “Maybe Jill can instill some confidence into some Georgia voters. But I’m not so sure at the moment.”

She believes the first lady was here “just trying” to do what she can.

“You’ve got to back your husband, but I just don’t see it happening,” Hall said of Joe Biden’s prospects for victory.

“Everything you see — his health, his cognitive side — he’s declining,” she said. “I’d rather have him there than Trump, but with his decline I don’t think he can last another four years.”

Hall, 60, who most recently worked as a convenience store manager, said persuading enough voters to support Biden may at this point be a losing battle.

“Everybody’s got their own opinion, but they can see with their own eyes, and hear,” she said.

On the night of the debate, Hall tuned in but soon switched it off.

“I’m sorry, Joe,” she said, as if addressing the president. “I voted for you originally. I just don’t think I can. … I don’t even know if I’m gonna go to the polls this year.”