WASHINGTON — Joe Biden's reelection campaign is engaged in full-o" />

Biden campaign is in debate damage control: Assuring worried donors, voters after debacle

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WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is engaged in full-on damage control after the president’s disastrous debate performance, seeking to assure top donors Biden can still win the election, rejecting calls that he bow out and trying to convince voters that he’s up for another term

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk from Marine One to board Air Force One at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, 

Jen O’Malley Dillion, chair of the Biden campaign, is set to hold a conference call with Biden donors Monday evening, a donor confirmed to USA TODAY, after a call with a smaller number of 40 top financial backers on Sunday turned tense amid concerns about Biden’s debate struggles.

The campaign released a new television ad Monday featuring footage of Biden’s speech from a post-debate rally Friday in Raleigh, North Carolina in which Biden acknowledges, “I know I’m not a young man,” but accuses former President Donald Trump of lying throughout the debate. “Like millions of Americans, I know when you get knocked down, you get back up,” Biden is shown saying in the ad.

Meanwhile, Biden remains at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, where he was with family over the weekend, and isn’t set to return to the White House until Monday night. Over the weekend, Biden’s family members urged him to stay in the race amid calls for him to bow out, the New York Times reported, citing people close to the situation.

His next moves will be watched closely, with panic at a fever pitch. Democrats have an Aug. 7 deadline to hold their virtual nomination, in order for Biden to make the general election ballot in Ohio.

Biden told donors on Saturday he understood the concerns about his performance and would not be running again if he wasn’t fully committed. “I get it. I didn’t have a great night,” he said. “But I’m going to be fighting harder.”

Democratic Party insiders who spoke to USA TODAY said Biden needs to make the changes immediately. Town halls where he takes off-the cuff questions from voters, press conferences — any setting that doesn’t involve a teleprompter.

“I don’t want rallies, rah-rahs with people yelling and cheering and whatever,” one Democratic National Committee member said. “No, just a conversation with the people.”

Democrats were otherwise in holding pattern on Monday as they waited to hear from Biden.

A major donor who attended several Zoom calls with campaign staff and other donors spent the weekend waiting to hear what Biden might decide after meeting with his family at Camp David.

“The best solution I keep hearing would be for him to step aside, but I think that is doubtful,” the donors said.

The person described the feelings of other donors as mixed. “Many are getting behind Biden, others are not so sure,” the donor said.

Francesca Hagadus, a political organizer from Pleasantville, New York, said she didn’t want it to appear as if Biden had been “fired.”

“It needs to sound like his idea,” she said, of the prospect of Biden stepping aside.

A former Obama administration official said they were in “wait-and-see” mode, adding the next few weeks will be crucial, when new polls numbers start trickling in.

Damage has been done, according to a new post-debate USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released Monday. The survey found 41% of Democratic voters, including 37% of Americans who plan to vote for Biden, believe the party should replace Biden as their presidential nominee.

More: Joe Biden’s core Democratic support takes big hit after debate, exclusive poll shows

More: Slow-walk? Supreme Court Trump immunity ruling is finally here, likely too late for trial before election

Could Democrats have an open convention?

Biden’s showing during last Thursday’s debate in Atlanta − in which the president struggled to complete thoughts and string together coherent sentences − has left Biden’s allies swatting down the idea of an open DNC Convention in August to choose a different nominee.

For that to happen, Biden would have to choose to step aside and release his bound delegates. And while the DNC rules do lay out a process for filling a vacancy on the national ticket, that’s not a scenario that committee members who’d have to manage the process want to find themselves in engaged in.

“I think that sets a dangerous precedent. That really does set us up as being the elitists who go and select against the will of the people,” the DNC member said.

In the Democratic presidential primary, Democrats voted for Biden delegates, the member noted.

“We’re just going to disregard the thousands of people that went out and voted and said they wanted us to be Joe Biden delegates, and, oh, we’re just going to make our own decision? And what is that decision going to be based on? How do we even decide who that person is going to be in 130 days or whatever?” the member said. “That’s a ridiculous notion.”

Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez and Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison addressed party members during a Saturday call.

One DNC member who was present said the message from party officials was, essentially, “that everybody needs to take a deep breath” and not rush to judgement.

“He’s going to be in the race,” the DNC member said. “He’s raised a boatload of money. If you think about anybody else, like who would be that other person?”

After the debate, O’Malley Dillon and Biden campaign manager Chavez Rodriguez held a breakfast meeting with top donors in Atlanta in which they downplayed the impact of Biden’s poor debate performance.

Chip Forrester, who attended the meeting, said O’Malley highlighted results from a focus group of undecided independent voters during the debate who responded more positively to Biden than Trump, emphasized Biden’s strong fundraising on the day of the debate and since, and argued the fundraising operation and campaign infrastructure could not be easily transferred to a new nominee.

“We all left the debate Thursday night with the wind out of our sails. We had thought he would do better,” Forrester, co-chair of the Biden-Harris Southern Finance Committee said. “I think we left the meeting − OK, we’ve had a bad night, but we’re going to pick ourselves up and move forward.”

O’Malley Dillon, in a campaign memo released over the weekend, tried to spin anxieties about Biden’s debate performance as an obsession of the D.C. media, not voters. “It’s a familiar story: Following Thursday night’s debate, the beltway class is counting Joe Biden out. The data in the battleground states, though, tells a different story,” she wrote.

But Betty Cotton of New York, who has donated thousands to Biden’s reelection campaign and serves as a regional finance committee member, told USA TODAY it was hard to watch.

“It was a disaster last night,” she said last week.

The campaign’s conference call Sunday with donors revealed deep concerns, NBC News reported. One participant, the television network reported, said a lot of financial supporters on the call were “frightened” and didn’t appreciate being delivered “campaign talking points.” Some asked for their contributions to be returned.

Joey Garrison, Francesca Chambers and Swapna Venugopal cover the White House for USA TODAY. Reach them on X as @joeygarrison @Fran_Chambers and @Swapna Venugopal.