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It has been another week during which a reporter asked whether Joe Biden will run for president in 2024. And another week that saw the answer to that question not exactly resolved.

“He is. That’s his intention,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki aboard Air Force One as the president was on his way to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with troops in North Carolina on Monday. Psaki’s comments echoed what Biden himself said shortly after taking office, when he told reporters during his first press conference in March that it was his “intention” to run again.

But in many ways the “will Biden run in 2024?″ question is the version of the “what is up with Trump and Russia?” question during the previous administration. Each question was always around, always driving chatter inside Washington, and never fully resolved. Remember, for Biden, the questions about whether he would be a single-term president began before he even ran in 2020. The question was then repeatedly asked and not totally answered several times before a primary vote was cast. It then came up again in the general election.

Unlike all the Russia probes, however, there will eventually be a clean answer on Biden and 2024. He will either be on the ballot or he won’t.


And while Trump set up his formal reelection campaign the moment he was inaugurated, that was an unprecedented move. Barack Obama didn’t formally announce his reelection plans until the April after the 2010 midterm elections. If Biden were to follow Obama’s timeline, then he has nearly a year and a half to make a decision. Then again, no one seriously doubted Obama was going to seek reelection.

Beyond all the speculating, the questions beneath the question about Biden and 2024 are probably more important and instructive for Democratic politics in 2021.


Question 1: But why wouldn’t Biden run?

Very few American presidents have openly taken reelection off the table: One of them, James K. Polk, announced it the moment he received his party’s presidential nomination in 1844. His decision was part ideological — as a believer in limited government power — and practical: agreeing to only serve one term was likely the only way he could build a coalition of party power brokers to back him for the nomination.

Biden has different issues. The reason people talk about him serving only one term is largely due to his age. At 78, he was the oldest person ever elected to serve as president in 2020. He could break that record if he ran again in 2024 at age 82.

Mental and physical capacity to serve as the leader of the free world is something that voters must determine for themselves. While plenty of data is available from Biden’s doctors, it is still a subjective decision by every voter in how to read the data.

But lately, there is a second reason that people, including Democrats, are asking whether Biden will run: his poor poll numbers.

Now 10 months into his presidency, Biden’s approval ratings have never been this low. A Marist poll out on Wednesday showed him at just 42 percent, in line with other recent polls. This means Biden is the most unpopular president at this point in his presidency, other than Donald Trump.


Question 2: Can anyone other than Biden win?

Aides have already signaled in anonymous quotes to the press that if Biden does run it might be out of a sense of duty. The 2020 election turned out to be much closer than Democrats thought it would be. It is possible that among all the Democrats who ran in the 2020 primary — the most diverse field in history and one of the largest — only Biden could have defeated Trump for reelection.

With Trump looking more likely than not to run again, the Trump factor is not off the table. And the field of potential candidates is basically the same crew that ran in 2020.

And, yes, if Biden doesn’t run it likely would be a crew. The most obvious heir apparent to Biden, his vice president Kamala Harris, had a 28 percent approval rating in one recent poll.

This has led to open speculation, even this week, that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg could run. Buttigieg would not only be among the youngest people to be elected president, but also the first openly gay person.

Let’s be clear here: Even after winning the Iowa Caucuses and coming in a close second in the New Hampshire primary, the Democratic electorate didn’t think Buttigieg could win (or that he sufficiently understood the Black vote). It is unclear whether a stint as transportation secretary would change that.

Question 3: If Biden doesn’t run how badly will tensions within the party explode?


As anyone could see during the Democratic presidential primary season or witness this year during negotiations over infrastructure and “Build Back Better” legislation, there is a lot of tension within the party.

The party’s base has moved left and wants leaders who are not old white men. There is also an establishment, led by Biden and South Carolina Representative James Clyburn, who feel like they are more in tune with Democrats and the electorate as a whole.

That next year the Republicans could win big because of Biden, prompting Biden and his allies to say that only proves that Biden has to run, is the conundrum.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.