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Voters aren't sure if they want Biden and Trump to launch 2024 presidential bids

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump says he'll probably run for president again. An announcement could come next week. President Biden says he intends to run for reelection. Nothing is formal yet, though. Polls suggest many Americans are not solidly on board with those plans. White House correspondent Tamara Keith shares what NPR learned when talking with voters during the midterm campaign.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It might feel too soon for this conversation, but it isn't really. The shadow race for 2024 is already well underway, and voters are thinking about it - or at least they have plenty of thoughts when asked. President Biden, who turns 80 later this month, is already America's oldest president. And that was weighing on people as we asked them whether he should run again.

J'VETT MCKINSEY: Now that I'm still on the fence about.

KEITH: J'Vett McKinsey is a Democratic voter from North Carolina.

MCKINSEY: Not just because of his performance, but I do think at a certain point, age-wise, you just need to relax, relate, release. And I don't think anything is worth your health and your mental strength and your time with your family.

KEITH: At some point, she said, everybody just needs to hand off the baton. It's a common sentiment, but Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters we spoke to were also quick to defend Biden - like Cathy Abruscato (ph).

CATHY ABRUSCATO: He stands for a lot of things I stand for. So I think he - you know, he's doing the best he could with what he's got.

KEITH: There was a long pause, though, when I asked her whether Biden should run again.

ABRUSCATO: I don't know about that. I think if we had somebody a little younger, it might be a little bit better. But if he is our choice, I will support him. I mean, he represents what we want in this country.

KEITH: At his press conference Wednesday, Biden was asked about midterm exit polling that found two-thirds of voters don't want him to run. His message to those with reservations?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Watch me.

KEITH: In 2020, Biden wasn't most Democrats' first choice, but in the end, he consolidated support behind the idea that he could beat then-President Trump. And he did. And now, in conversations with voters like Jeff Flayter, Trump is a big part of the calculus.

JEFF FLAYTER: Joe's a - I think he's a good person, but I think - in a nice way, I think he's getting a little old, and I think he's - but again, if he's the guy running, I'm going to support him over Trump any day of the week, twice on Sundays.

KEITH: Many voters we spoke to didn't know who would run for the Democrats in the absence of Biden. A president has a tendency to block the sun. That's exactly what former President Trump is aiming to do. At a rally this week, with ominous music behind him, he teased another run.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I'm going to be making a very big announcement on Tuesday, November 15, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla.

KEITH: Polls indicate a narrow majority of Republicans want Trump to run again. But interviews with voters reveal ambivalence.

SCOTT PINSON: I voted for President Trump, but I would not vote for him again.

KEITH: Scott Pinson lives in Alpharetta, Ga.

PINSON: I don't like the documents they found in Mar-a-Lago. There's a lot of things - I didn't like what happened on January 6. There's a lot of things that have really bothered me about him.

KEITH: Tony Vanschaick and his wife Michelle supported Trump before.

TONY VANSCHAICK: He was a nonpolitician, and we needed nonpoliticians. He's just far too polarizing, I think, to - if we can get someone like DeSantis or something out of Florida to run, I think he would make a big difference.

KEITH: What he means by polarizing is that Trump divided Republicans and energized Democrats. And Vanschaick is adamant the country needs a Republican in the White House again.

VANSCHAICK: Trump proved that he could not gather the votes the second time around.

KEITH: Diane Kubsch likes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. As for Trump...

DIANE KUBSCH: Oh, I think he has so much baggage. I just think it's time - go, and - I love him, but I think he should just go and retire at Mar-a-Lago and be happy and just be retired.

KEITH: Retirement may not be in the plans for either Trump or Biden. In the next few weeks, Americans will get a better sense of whether they will be seeking a rematch.

Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.