Biden supporters in Georgia voice support and concern after primetime interview

The president said only ‘the Lord Almighty’ could drive him out of the race
In this handout photo provided by ABC, President Joe Biden speaks with "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos on Friday in Madison, Wisconsin. (ABC/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

In this handout photo provided by ABC, President Joe Biden speaks with "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos on Friday in Madison, Wisconsin. (ABC/Getty Images/TNS)

In an effort to reassure Democratic voters that he has the capacity to serve another term, President Joe Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that his performance during the recent presidential debate in Atlanta was a “bad episode” and not indicative of a more serious condition.

His responses, which also addressed concerns about his cognitive ability and frailty, are unlikely to change attitudes among Georgia Democrats.

State elected officials and party leaders who have publicly stuck with Biden despite his poor debate performance repeated their support following Friday night’s interview. Others who have stayed quiet in the days since, which have seen escalating calls for Biden to exit the race, declined to speak with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That’s because most opinions about Biden have largely solidified, Atlanta Democratic state Sen. Jason Esteves said.

“There will be Democrats who will continue to encourage the president to stay in and there will be Democrats who continue to call for him to drop out,” he said. “I will continue to strongly support the president and highlight his successes and vision for the future while warning people that we cannot afford four more years of Trump.”

Friday’s interview was the first time in eight days that Biden participated in a sit-down interview since a number of editorial boards and some Democrats across the United States called on him to suspend his reelection campaign after his dismal showing at last week’s debate.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the state Democratic Party, sought to refocus the conversation from Biden’s performance to the “threat to democracy” that she says would come from a second Trump term.

“Georgia is a battleground state, and we’re standing with [Biden] to defeat Donald Trump once again,” she said in a statement.

Biden made it through the 22-minute interview without any major blunders that would inflict further damage to his imperiled campaign, but it appeared unlikely to fully tamp down concerns about his age and fitness for another four years and his ability to defeat Trump in November.

Patrick Peart, who lives in Fulton County, said Biden answered Stephanopoulos’ questions “as best he could,” but “for me, it wasn’t all that reassuring.”

“Nevertheless, in a comparison between him and Trump, there is no way I could vote for Trump. There is no way I could ever vote for a convicted felon,” said Peart, 78, referring to Trump’s conviction on 34 charges in New York involving hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The president remained defiant about staying in the race during the interview and at campaign events on Friday despite questions about his mental and physical fitness. Responding to Stephanopoulos, Biden repeatedly rejected taking an independent medical evaluation that would show voters he is up for serving another term in office.

“It was a bad episode,” Biden said of his debate performance. “No indication of any serious condition. I was exhausted. I didn’t listen to my instincts in terms of preparing, and I had a bad night.”

After he was asked how he might be persuaded to leave the race, he laughed and replied, “If the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that, I might do that.”

Niles Francis, a 22-year-old political science major and senior at Georgia Southern University, who publishes a newsletter about Georgia politics, is among Biden’s youngest supporters.

“There’s no question that Biden looked and sounded much better than he did at the debate, but I don’t think he did much to calm the nerves of jittery Democrats. And it’s going to take more than just a 22-minute interview for him to calm those nerves,” he said.

State Democratic officials have remained loyal to Biden, whose leadership of the party helped solidify Georgia as a battleground state. Georgia Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler repeated that support on Friday.

“President Biden has led this nation well for four years, and I am confident he would do a great job in his second term,” Butler said. “Democrats must stay laser focused on keeping the twice-impeached convicted felon out of the White House.”

There is also a thread of pragmatism in this approach. Biden maintained that he was the “most qualified” to lead Democrats against Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, something many Democratic voters in Georgia have echoed.

Support could soon swing either way, as Biden’s schedule quickly fills with interviews and other high-profile activities.

A CBS News poll released on Wednesday showed Trump and Biden within the margin of error in Georgia and other battleground states, hardly signaling a dramatic shift. Just before last week’s debate, an AJC poll showed Trump holding a slight lead over Biden in the state.

The AJC poll of likely voters shows Trump leads Biden by about 43% to 38%, just outside the margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is not yet on the Georgia ballot but is expected to qualify, is at 9%. An additional 8% are undecided.

Preventing Trump’s return to the White House, however, remains the top priority for Democrats supporting and questioning Biden’s position on the ticket.

At Manuel’s Tavern, an Atlanta bar that has been a mainstay for left-leaning politicians and voters for decades, Biden supporters watched the interview with trepidation.

Alex Cooper, 48, said Biden is in big trouble after the debate, but he still plans to vote for him come November.

“The interview seemed like a lot of going around in circles and not really answering anything,” Cooper said.

For others, such as Dewey Holleman, 61, Biden’s responses were on par with what he’s seen over the past four years of his presidency and since he began campaigning.

“I think it was the old Joe we elected,” he said.

Staff writer Caleb Groves and The Associated Press contributed to this report.