PG A.M.: Democrats defend Biden publicly, worry privately after poor debate

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President Joe Biden (above) debated former President Donald Trump in Atlanta on Thursday.

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

President Joe Biden (above) debated former President Donald Trump in Atlanta on Thursday.

Prominent supporters of President Joe Biden all had the same message in interviews after Thursday night’s debate: it wasn’t his best effort but he is still a better option than former President Donald Trump.

Vice President Kamala Harris called Biden’s debate performance a “slow start” but said it shouldn’t overshadow his record in office.

“People can debate on style points, but ultimately this election and who is the president has to be about substance,” she told CNN.

President Joe Biden drops in on a gathering for Democrats at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Thursday.

Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

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Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

The AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu caught up with U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock on the spin room floor, and he also was among those who said Biden’s policy proposals outshined Trump’s even if other aspects of his performance did not.

“I think you all are talking about style,” Warnock, an Atlanta Democrat, told reporters who asked if he was worried about Biden’s abilities after his 90 minutes on stage. “The people I’m talking to in the state of Georgia, they’re not focused on style. They’re thinking about their families. They’re thinking about whether or not they can afford child care so they can get to work.”

But privately, the tone of conversation among Democratic voters and operatives was of concern and to an extent panic. Biden’s poor showing not only allowed Trump to dodge questions and misrepresent facts repeatedly, but it also led to questions about whether it’s time for Biden to consider abandoning his campaign for a second term.

Sharon Bates (left) of South Fulton, and Akilah Raines (center) react during the presidential debate at a gathering for Democrats in Atlanta.

Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

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Credit: Jenni Girtman for the AJC

Chris Bruce, the Atlanta-based activist who serves as political director for the Georgia ACLU, was among the few willing to raise concern publicly. On the spin room floor, he said it may be time for Biden’s team to consider changes.

“America does not feel comfortable with either candidate,” he said.

Some of this panic — The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty called it the “Great Democratic Freakout” — could subside in the coming days, especially if Biden does well on the campaign trail, starting with today’s rally in North Carolina.

But if it doesn’t, it would be hard to replace him on the ballot after he swept every single state primary and has earned more than enough delegates to officially become the Democratic nominee during the party’s convention in August.

Plus, the Democratic Party’s rules discourage challenging incumbents, the AJC’s Taylor Croft and Shannon McCaffrey report.

They also spoke to University of Georgia political science Professor Charles Bullock, who said if Biden withdraws from the race his delegates then would be free to support another candidate during the convention.

But there is no indication that Biden will step down, and if he doesn’t the convention could get messy even if delegates technically are still able to change their alliances.

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President Joe Biden (center) and first lady Jill Biden (second from right)  greet customers at a Waffle House in Marietta on Friday.

Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

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Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

WAFFLE TO GO. President Joe Biden provided a brief take on his own debate performance while making a stop at a downtown Atlanta Waffle House.

“I think we did well,” he told reporters, according to the AJC’s Michelle Baruchman, who was among the press traveling with the president Thursday.

The president and first lady Jill Biden said they were picking up an order for staff. It was their final stop before taking Air Force One to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Biden, who could be heard clearing his throat throughout the evening and spoke in a raspy tone, said that his throat was sore during the debate. But he said he wasn’t giving any credence to the conversation about whether he should drop out.

“It’s hard to debate a liar,” he said. “The New York Times pointed out he lied 26 times.”

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Ben Carson, former House and Urban Development Secretary, was on hand for the presidential debate.

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

VEEPSTAKES. As former President Donald Trump auditioned for voters on the debate stage Thursday, those seeking to serve as his vice presidential running mate jockeyed for attention at Republican watch parties in Atlanta.

Trump campaign officials have said he is closing in on a VP choice, with U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as the front-runners. Trump is also said to be considering Ben Carson, a Trump cabinet secretary during his first term, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

All were captured together in a photograph from a watch party hosted by former Georgia U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and posted to social media by Scott.

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Monica Johnson of the Party for Socialism and Liberation speaks at a pro-Palestinian rally near the Atlanta site of the presidential debate on Thursday.

Credit: Seeger Gray/AJC

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Credit: Seeger Gray/AJC

PEACEFUL PROTESTS. Several activist groups staked out sidewalk space near the CNN studios to stage protests ahead of the presidential debate. There were no arrests.

The causes championed by the groups varied. Activists championed Palestinians in Gaza and ethical treatment of animals. They denounced abortion and the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

A team of AJC reporters was on the ground and has more on the protests.

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Former President Donald Trump (above) debated President Joe Biden on Thursday in Atlanta.

Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC

LISTEN UP. Today’s episode of “Politically Georgia” is all about analyzing the debate and dissecting how President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump’s performance may affect the race going forward.

Listen live at 10 a.m. on WABE 90.1 or follow “Politically Georgia” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thursday’s show was a debate preview featuring U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, and CNN analyst Bakari Sellers, a Morehouse man and former Democratic lawmaker in South Carolina.

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HEALTH CARE WATCH. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones tapped three members of a new commission that will wrestle over how to expand health care access.

The appointees to the Comprehensive Health Coverage Commission are: Joseph Ross, a partner with Morris, Manning & Martin; Lisa Carnot of PruittHealth Corp.; and Kristy Klein Davis, president of the Georgia Health Initiative.

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U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island, is battling a federal proposal designed to curb boat strikes of endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

SPEED CHECK. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-St. Simons Island, has opened a new front in his effort to squash a federal proposal designed to curb boat strikes of endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Carter appeared Thursday at a House subcommittee hearing on legislation he recently introduced that would prohibit the adoption of a speed limit for boats longer than 35 feet in the right whale calving grounds off the Georgia coast. House Resolution 8704 would bar the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from imposing the rule through 2030. The suspension is meant to allow time for the development of technologies that would detect the presence of whales. The legislation calls for the federal government to set aside $10 million for grants to fund those innovations.

The measure is the second introduced by Carter challenging NOAA’s plans to expand the speed rule, which is already in place for vessels longer than 65 feet. Carter says the speed limit would harm both recreational charter fisherman and impede maritime shipping at the Georgia Ports Authority’s terminals in Savannah and Brunswick. The Ports Authority’s Jamie McCurry testified at Thursday’s subcommittee hearing.

Approximately 360 right whales remain, and at least four have died due to vessel strikes in 2024. NOAA implemented the speed rule, which limits boats to 10 knots or 11.5 mph in certain areas, in 2008 in an attempt to increase the species’ numbers. The federal agency moved to expand it last year due to an uptick in deaths due to vessel strikes and fishing line entanglements.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON:

  • President Joe Biden travels to North Carolina for a campaign rally.
  • The House votes on final passage of three of the 12 appropriations bills.
  • The Senate is in recess until July 8.

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Marcello Banes, chair of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, has been indicted on federal money laundering charges.

Credit: Newton County

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Credit: Newton County

NEWTON INDICTMENTS. The chairman of Newton County’s governing council and a newly elected leader to that commission were indicted Thursday on federal money laundering charges.

The AJC’s Henry Hollis reports Newton County Commission chair Marcello Banes and Commissioner-elect Stephanie Lindsey were charged with conspiring to launder money obtained by wire fraud and honest services wire fraud.

Banes has denied allegations made by the U.S. Department of Justice in filing the charges.

Newton County is located on the eastern outskirts of metro Atlanta along I-20.

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A decision by the Savannah City Council will impact Elbert Square.

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC

DEMO TIME. More than two years have passed since Savannah opened a modern sports and entertainment venue, the Enmarket Arena, to replace the half-century-old Savannah Civic Center. On Thursday, the Savannah City Council finally decided what to do with the Civic Center, spread across seven acres on six city blocks in the heart of the historic district.

By a 7-1 vote, the council approved a proposal to demolish the arena half of the civic center complex but retain and refurbish the performance hall end, which also includes ballrooms and meeting rooms. The decision means a partial restoration of the historic street grid and of Elbert Square, all of which were lost with the development of the civic center between 1968 and 1972.

Insider Adam Van Brimmer has more on the decision and the political machinations behind the scenes.

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FALSE FLYERS. In case you missed it, St. Simons Island residents are still chafing over an unusual turn in last week’s runoff election race for a Glynn County Commission seat. In the days ahead of the vote, flyers landed in mailboxes urging recipients to reelect one of the candidates, Bob Duncan.

The catch? Duncan didn’t hold the seat and had never previously held public office. The incumbent, meanwhile, chose not to seek reelection, leaving Duncan in a two-candidate race for the soon-to-be-vacant post.

Duncan told The Brunswick News the flyers were sent by a political action group with no ties to his campaign.

“I had no prior knowledge about the flyer and I certainly did not provide any of the content or approve the message — neither did my campaign committee,” Duncan said.

Duncan easily won the GOP runoff, capturing 65% of the vote. There is no Democratic candidate for the post, meaning he is likely to run unopposed in November.

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AS ALWAYS, Politically Georgia readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to greg.bluestein@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com, patricia.murphy@ajc.com and adam.vanbrimmer@ajc.com.