Can Biden be replaced as Democratic candidate?

President Biden’s performance in CNN’s presidential debate last night left the Democratic Party facing the possibility of replacing its presidential nominee.

This guide explains how such an extraordinary decision could happen.

Biden’s ‘disastrous’ debate performance causes media meltdown, prompts him to withdraw from 2024 primary race

If Biden wants to stay on the ballot before DNC roll call

Biden is currently the presumptive Democratic nominee, as he has secured the overwhelming majority of pledged Democratic delegates, awarded after each state’s primary election.

Former President Donald Trump is also currently a presumptive candidate.

The rules of the Democratic National Committee give the nominating power to these delegates.

President Biden participates in the CNN presidential debate at CNN studios June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. Biden’s debate performance has sparked concerns within the Democratic Party about whether he could be replaced as nominee. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

Delegates must “in good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them,” meaning Democratic primary voters.

In other words, as long as Biden wants to stay on the ballot, these delegates are expected to vote for him.

Since the rules impose no legal obligation on delegates to vote for the candidate they have pledged to vote for, a mass defection is at least theoretically possible.

The party will officially nominate Biden when delegates take part in a roll-call vote.


This normally takes place at a party convention, which for Democrats begins the week of August 19.

But this year, Democrats announced they would hold a “virtual” roll call vote by Aug. 7 to meet Ohio’s ballot access deadline.

Following legislation signed by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine that pushes the deadline to September 1, Democrats no longer need to hold this virtual vote before the convention.

But for now, the plan is for a willing Biden to become the nominee by August 7 at the latest.

If Biden withdraws before the DNC is called

If Biden withdraws before roll call, then his delegates will no longer be committed to him, and it will essentially be “open season.”

Any eligible presidential candidate could emerge, including candidates who did not run in the presidential primaries, and delegates could vote for them.

Obviously, Biden’s support would be crucial for any of these candidates.

President Biden speaks as he participates in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections with former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at the CNN studios in Atlanta, Georgia June 27, 2024. (Getty Images)

And while the most logical candidate to receive support would be Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden could choose anyone.

If Biden withdraws, dies or suffers a “disability” after the DNC roll call

Any change of candidate after the roll call vote would be an even greater political disaster.

The DNC rules give the committee broad authority to replace a nominee in the event of a candidate’s death, resignation or “incapacity”: “In the event of the death, resignation or incapacity of a nominee of the Party for President or Vice President after the adjournment of the National Convention, the National Chairman of the Democratic National Committee shall confer with the Democratic leadership of the United States Congress and the Democratic Governors Association and report to the Democratic National Committee, which shall be authorized to fill the vacancy or vacancy(ies).”

Harris campaigned with Biden at Girard College on May 29, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The scope of “disability” will be the subject of intense debate if the party chooses to invoke the provision.

But if any of those three conditions arise, party Chairman Jaime Harrison would consult with Democratic leaders. It would make a recommendation to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The committee would then decide on the name of the new candidate.

Again, the most likely candidate would be Harris, given her current position in the Biden administration, but anything could happen.


If Biden withdraws, dies or suffers a “disability” after ballots are printed

If any of these conditions occur after the general election ballots are printed — and/or if it is too late to change the candidate’s name printed on those ballots — the mechanism for the DNC to replace Biden is the same.

In this scenario, the party should inform voters that even if they vote for Joe Biden, the committee has chosen someone else for the nomination.

After the election, the party will have to try to encourage voters in the Electoral College to vote for this new candidate.

The confusion that such a last-minute decision could cause among voters would make an already difficult campaign even more difficult.

And given the unprecedented nature of such a move, it would almost certainly end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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