(The Hill) — Joe Biden’s universal name ID helped him win the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Voters wanted someone battle-tested and experienced, a familiar face to take on Donald Trump. He reminded Americans he had been in the White House before, knew his way around, and could thrive in the highest office on his own.
Biden says he plans to run for reelection in 2024, but there are some doubts given his age and his low approval numbers.
Democrats are bracing for a beating in this year’s midterm elections, and there are plenty in the party who think Biden might decide not to run for reelection, despite his past statements.
Most of the speculation on alternative Democratic candidates to Biden has been centered on Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg and two senators who also were in the 2020 Democratic primary, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
But those five bold-faced names are far from the only possible contenders.
Here are five under-the-radar Democrats who could run if Biden steps aside.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
The popular Ohio senator’s name comes up readily each time Democrats are looking for a candidate who isn’t one of the main contenders like Harris or Buttigieg. He appeals to both progressives and moderates in a much-coveted traditional swing state that has been important to both parties.
“When we talk about new faces and fresh blood, and what it means to be a Democrat in the traditional sense, he checks all the boxes,” said one prominent Democratic strategist who has worked on recent presidential elections. “The only thing he really lacks is name recognition.”
Another party strategist said Brown has figured out “the secret sauce” in winning a tough state like Ohio, which has been trending toward the GOP.
Brown briefly dipped his toes in the water during the 2020 presidential race and surprised some Democrats by taking his name out of contention almost immediately. But those voices are quick to point out that Brown faces a big obstacle in 2024: He’s running for reelection.
Democrats across the ideological spectrum have long wanted Abrams, Georgia’s former minority leader and current Democratic gubernatorial nominee, to run for higher office, particularly after her meteoric rise in the party.
Best known for her prolific work on democracy reform after narrowly losing to current GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, Abrams was high on Biden’s vice presidential shortlist before she announced a second governor run. That re-match against Kemp is one of the most anticipated of the cycle.
Absent a voting rights bill that many Democrats wanted passed during Biden’s first term, the 48-year-old Yale Law School graduate has openly pushed for similar reforms across her state, hoping to set an example of what can be possible at the national level. That work was praised by everyone from Biden to prominent celebrities and even Trump’s own niece, Mary Trump, as well as activists who consider Abrams an ally in their push for equitable access to the ballot box.
But as a strategist put it, “She’s going to have to win a race first.”
Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)
Khanna is the most overtly progressive name on the list. He co-chaired Sanders’ last presidential campaign and considers him a close friend. He supports sweeping populist economic reform and has built a reputation as a foreign policy expert in Congress.
While he shares much of the ideology of the left, his fiercest supporters say Khanna has something that some other progressives lack: an eagerness to work with those who have opposing views within the party.
At just 45, he’s over three decades younger than Biden and Sanders, prompting some Democrats to speculate that Khanna could be a potential heir to the national progressive movement in search of a new leader.
“Ro has an optimistic vision for the future of the Democratic Party and a strong economic message on American production and jobs that resonates with voters across the country,” a source close to Khanna told The Hill. “The 2024 race has to be focused on who can beat Donald Trump if he runs, but after that, I think there will be the space and desire for new leaders like Ro.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)
The path to the presidency famously runs through governors’ mansions and Democrats looking for glimmers of hope say that’s where most of the action will be in the midterms, including in swing-state Michigan.
Whitmer, who’s up for a second term in the fall, declined to discuss her potential 2024 prospects in an interview with NBC News this week, maintaining that she’s focused on improving conditions in her state and keeping her current position. Polls indicate she is on track to win.
She even went as far as to say she would offer Biden her support if he decided to seek the White House again. But the big question, of course, is if. Democrats have raised more concerns recently about Biden’s age, leading some to urge him to step aside for a younger candidate to compete, placing Whitmer, 50, in the mix.
Like Abrams, Whitmer got serious consideration during Biden’s vice presidential search, with some in his inner circle angling for her to be chosen.
“He really identified with her,” said one Biden ally. “I think he came really close to choosing her.”
She became more widely known for implementing pragmatic safety measures during the height of the coronavirus pandemic but has also been a favorite target of her state’s Republicans, who still maintain Trump won the presidential election over Biden and are eager to take her out of office.
The former New Orleans mayor rose to prominence when, in 2017, one year after Trump reclaimed the Oval Office, he called for the longest-standing Confederate monuments to be taken down in Louisiana.
In an impassioned speech, Landrieu illustrated diversity as the nation’s strongest unifier amid times of turmoil.
“In the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans — or anyone else — to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd,” he said.
Democrats have since seen the former mayor, who worked as a senior administration adviser during the bi-partisan infrastructure negotiations, as able to bring together new groups of voters.
“Mitch Landreiu is the only candidate in my mind that can rebuild the Obama coalition from 2008,” said Michael Starr Hopkins, a Democratic operative who worked on a primary campaign in the last presidential cycle. “His appeal to African Americans as well as white southerners is a rare skill. He’s built relationships, much in the way Joe Biden did.”