We spoke to 50 Democratic Georgia delegates. Nearly all back Biden

Chicago-bound Ga. Dems see Harris as president’s successor if he steps aside
The AJC attempted to contact each of the party’s 109 state delegates and interviewed nearly half of them. Of the 50 people interviewed, all but two said they would back Biden’s reelection bid without hesitation. AP photo. Photo illustration by ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

Credit: ArLuther Lee

The AJC attempted to contact each of the party’s 109 state delegates and interviewed nearly half of them. Of the 50 people interviewed, all but two said they would back Biden’s reelection bid without hesitation. AP photo. Photo illustration by ArLuther Lee

One said he would vote for President Joe Biden if he was on life support. Another said she might have to move to a different continent if he loses. A third said he would vote for a chunk of plywood if it meant defeating former President Donald Trump.

As Biden faces pressure to end his reelection bid over concerns about his age, Georgia delegates to the Democratic National Convention interviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution appear to share one thing: a near-unflinching loyalty to the embattled incumbent.

The AJC this week attempted to contact each of the party’s 109 state delegates and interviewed nearly half of them. Of the 50 people interviewed, all but two said they would back Biden’s reelection bid without hesitation.

The delegates also voiced broad support for Vice President Kamala Harris as Biden’s successor should he voluntarily step aside, though many stressed it was a moot point until the president deems otherwise.

Ceremonial role

Delegates fill what is typically a ceremonial role, formally casting votes to nominate their candidate for president. But the labor organizers, small business owners, party officials, longtime activists and others who are headed to Chicago as delegates for the party’s four-day gala in August could play a far different role if doubts about Biden’s fitness impact the proceedings.

Following Biden’s disastrous debate in Atlanta, calls for the 81-year-old to pass the torch to a younger leader have reshaped the campaign, and there is growing pressure from a liberal activists, wealthy donors and progressive officials who predict Biden won’t be able to beat Trump.

The president has defiantly dismissed efforts to push him aside, all but daring his naysayers to pick a fight. He told MSNBC this week they should “go ahead, announce for president — challenge me at the convention.”

In the interviews, Georgia delegates made clear that a last-ditch effort on the DNC floor to defeat him won’t go anywhere, even though party rules don’t require them to vote for Biden if it goes against their “good conscience.”

“He just has to ride it out,” state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick said of the turmoil. “I’m not saying the concerns about age aren’t valid, but the reality is we have two choices. Democracy or dictatorship. As long as Democrats stick together and do the work to earn every vote, this brouhaha will blow over.”

State Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia). (Miguel Martinez/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TBS

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Credit: TBS

That was a common theme. Delegates acknowledged the president flubbed the debate and, in some of their views, has done little since then to reassure antsy voters. But they say his record in office and track record against Trump should outweigh health concerns.

“We can’t count people out because of their age. He’s probably forgotten more than those calling for him to step aside will ever know. Young people make gaffes too,” said Henry Ficklin, a former Macon City Council member. “I’ll grant Biden a few gaffes, but I’ll take him on life support over Trump.”

The Georgia delegation’s support for Biden shouldn’t be surprising. Most have served in the Democratic trenches for years and fought in 2020 to help Biden flip Georgia for the party for the first time in nearly three decades.

Winther Hardy of Jefferson said the delegation has little choice in the matter even if some were worried about whether Biden’s health will hold up.

“I pledged as a delegate to vote at the convention the way that the Georgia voters chose, and they chose him overwhelmingly. So he is our candidate,” Hardy said.

And Quentin T. Howell, a longtime Democratic activist in Milledgeville, echoed other delegates who said the nation’s lens should be focused less on Biden’s lapses and more on Trump, who was convicted weeks ago of 34 felony counts in a New York hush money trial.

“We’re not changing nothing on our side. we’ll take Joe Biden if he’s in a wheelchair on crutches,” he said. “What are they going to do with a candidate who is a convicted felon? it’s a no brainer.”

Former state Rep. Winfred Dukes.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)


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Former state Rep. Winfred Dukes, who long represented an Albany-based district, went a step further by summoning up Trump’s record of false and misleading statements and a 2023 jury verdict that found Trump liable for sexually abusing columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996.

“I’d rather be with a sick old man than a habitual liar, a convicted felon and a sexual assaulter any day. We’re lining up with Biden. Donald Trump is in a world of trouble. He don’t even know it.”

Risks are ‘too great’

While the delegation’s support for Biden was overwhelming, it was not unanimous. Two delegates expressed concerns about the president’s reelection bid on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive topics that could cause them to lose their coveted spots.

One said that it has become clear Biden is not the same energetic candidate who defeated Trump in 2020. The stakes are different now, too, with Trump expressing more authoritarian rhetoric and a fresh U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found presidents have substantial immunity for some official acts.

“I wish we could just reframe this, put a new light on it and that would make it OK,” said the delegate. “But every time we see him walk, every time we see his eyes in the sunglasses he wears so frequently … I think the time has come (for him to bow out).”

A second delegate feared Biden was doomed no matter how his campaign scrambles to reposition itself.

“I’m very concerned. I don’t think he should run. I think he’s going to lose and the risks are too great. You’re not going to see a revolt from Georgia delegates. We are pledged to Biden. But it’s incumbent on party elected officials to tell Biden it’s no longer tenable.”

Both said they were skeptical anything could be done to change the party’s course just weeks before the convention. And both said they feared speaking publicly to distract from the party’s focus on defeating Trump.

‘The only choice … is Kamala Harris’

There was also a broad consensus of delegates behind Harris if the decision was thrown to them, with some saying if Biden trusted her enough to make her his running mate then Democrats should also back her as his successor.

“The vice president has done a good job, but I don’t expect it to come to that,” said Vinny Olsziewski, a Rome operative. “The president has made clear he wants to stay at the top of the ticket.”

Some warned of voter backlash if Harris, a Black woman, was bypassed.

“The only choice that should be made is Kamala Harris,” said Thelma Johnson, who is also a Black woman.

“[If not] are we saying that she’s not qualified enough, that she doesn’t have the ability to serve in the highest office of the land, or that she doesn’t qualify because of her race?” the 55-year-old Albany resident asked.

Others wouldn’t even brook a conversation about a hypothetical.

“I pledged my support to President Biden and I don’t have any intention of supporting anyone else. I’m in it for as long as he’s in it,” said Kristen Kiefer, a health care executive from Warner Robins.

Amin Ghoneim, a political organizer from Suwanee, said he sees it as an “obligation” to represent Georgia primary voters by backing Biden.

“If he throws his weight behind somebody, that’s who I throw my weight behind because Georgia voters voted for Biden,” he said. “And if it’s not going to be Biden, then it should be who Biden sees fit.”

A ‘move to Ecuador?’

If there was a consensus among the delegates, it was that Biden was the party’s best hope at this late stage to defeat Trump.

DeKalb County Commissioner Mereda Davis Johnson said Biden’s debate performance gave her “no reason to think that someone else should step in. Because we all have bad days. If we’re judged by that one bad day we would never serve.”

Fulton County Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. framed his support for Biden this way: “I would vote for a piece of wood or a rock over his opponent.”

And then there was state Rep. Shelly Hutchinson, who said half-jokingly she would have to refresh her passport if party infighting scuttled Biden’s chances of winning another term.

“I’m all-in for Biden. This has to be a group effort. A faction breaking off to do something else will bring chaos and ultimately dystopia,” she said. “And then I have to move to Ecuador.”

State Rep. Shelly Hutchinson

Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate

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Credit: Photo contributed by the candidate