With chaos still simmering in the Democratic Party over President Joe Biden’s lackluster debate performance, some have floated the idea of replacing him at the top of the ticket.

If it can be done, how can it be done?

There are two scenarios to consider: Biden drops out by his own choice or there’s a movement among delegates to replace him. The second one is mired with complications.

Will Biden drop out? White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was insistent on Wednesday that the president would remain in the race. Earlier in the day, The New York Times reported Biden told a key ally he’s aware that if his next public appearances go the way of the debate, his campaign might be in further disarray.

Andrew Bates, White House spokesman, denied the report.

Two members of the Biden campaign who were present on a call Wednesday afternoon told the Times that Biden said he would remain in the race for the White House until the end.

Without Biden dropping out, it would be difficult but not technically impossible for Democrats to replace him, said Jeremy Pope, political science professor at Brigham Young University.

Poll: If Joe Biden stood aside, who would voters want to run in his place?

Can Democrats replace Biden as nominee if he doesn’t drop out?

It would come down to the delegates.

Democratic Party rules say, “All delegates to the National Convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.”

In other words, you’re supposed to vote for who you are pledged to, and in this case the vast majority are already pledged to Biden. Pope said there are laws in different states, “some with more teeth, some with less,” that say delegates have to vote for who they are pledged to.

But this is an unprecedented scenario, said Pope, and it’s unclear how those laws would be enforced if a bunch of delegates said they could not, in good conscience, support Biden and voted for someone else.

According to party rules, that someone else would have to be nominated on the floor of convention. It would be difficult for a would-be replacement of Biden to campaign to the delegates without setting off a national media firestorm.

Say California Gov. Gavin Newsom wanted to become the candidate, said Pope, as he emphasized he’s not suggesting Newsom wants to. “He couldn’t really talk about it directly or publicly because if he did, it would look like he was betraying the party and betraying the president.”

If Newsom or another person started calling up delegates to get their support, Pope said just a few calls in, it’s likely the news would leak out.

“I don’t know that anyone can openly campaign for it, or even privately campaign for it, until Joe Biden were to decide,” Pope said. But if the president were to decide to drop out, it would be a land rush.

Those who want to replace Biden as nominee would immediately start calling delegates to try and get them on their side. “It would end up being pretty chaotic,” said Pope. “This is why Democrats are concerned and don’t particularly want to walk down this road.”

In a scenario where there are multiple candidates vying for one nomination at convention, there’s something else to keep in mind: What if none of them get a majority on the first round of voting?

That’s where the superdelegates come in.

The superdelegates are the backbone of the Democratic Party — they’re elected officials, local and state party leaders, retired politicians, donors and leaders of interest groups.

“The superdelegates were essentially invented to ensure that there was somebody to break ties,” said Pope. “And to signal — this is who the party really supports, this is who the leadership is all in on.”

If the convention is open and delegates don’t give a majority to one person, the superdelegates would vote during the second round.

Pope said the superdelegates would likely coalescence around one candidate.

“I’m not holding my breath that this is going to happen,” said Pope, explaining he still believes the most likely scenario is Biden will hang on as the nominee.

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What if Biden dropped out after convention?

Say Biden officially received the nomination and then dropped out after convention, then the Democratic National Committee would fill the vacancy itself by following party rules.

Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison would talk to Democratic congressional leadership and governors to decide who could replace Biden-Harris. But then, that gets complicated.

The Democratic National Committee had announced it would do a virtual roll call vote to certify the nominee due to Ohio having an Aug. 7 deadline in order for a candidate to get on the ballot. The deadline was later pushed, but the committee planned the virtual roll call vote before Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill into law.

States administer elections and have different laws. The Democratic Party would have to navigate the different deadlines and could possibly run into a scenario where if Biden drops out post-convention, he drops out after a state’s deadline to get on the ballot has passed.

“Wisconsin does not allow a candidate’s name to be withdrawn from the ballot except due to death,” reported Fox News. “Georgia would allow Biden to withdraw up to 60 days before the election. If Biden withdraws afterward, his name would remain on the ballot but votes for him would be discarded.”


Other states have different deadlines: Delaware’s deadline is Aug. 27, Hawaii’s is Sept. 6 and Idaho is Aug. 30.

The Heritage Foundation has reportedly indicated it would consider legal challenges to the ballot if Biden is pulled as the nominee.

The other challenge that could arise if Biden were pulled off the ballot post-convention is that states need to print and send out ballots. That sometimes happens more than a month before Election Day in November.

In other words, the more time lapses after convention, the more difficult it would be for the Democratic Party to have a candidate who makes it onto states’ ballots.

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