PHILADELPHIA: It once looked like an outside bet, but US President Joe Biden's bid for a second term is being treated as a given among grassroots Democrats plotting the course to the next election at their winter get-together.
The octogenarian leader, who was due to deliver the headlining address on Friday at the Democratic National Committee's convention, is something of a rock star for activists eager to hear him speak at a plush hotel in historic Philadelphia.
"All of you have to be his... evangelist in the next two years," Ken Martin, the leader of the Minnesota Democratic Party, told a panel discussion ahead of Biden's speech, expected later in the afternoon.
"There has been no president that has done more in the past two years," he added, pointing to the once-in-a-generation package Biden signed into law to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure, and his efforts to boost unionised labour.
Firing up campaigners who had travelled from America's four corners to strategise for the 2024 campaign, he told the audience: "We've got to get out there... sell that to the American people."
It might be Republicans that have the elephant as their official symbol, but there is a giant pachyderm in the room whenever Democrats discuss Biden in 2024.
The 46th president was born closer to the end of Abraham Lincoln's tenure than to the start of his own.
Already the oldest president in US history, he would be 86 when the time comes to hand over the Oval Office keys, assuming he wins reelection and stays healthy.
Many of his critics think that's just too old, especially since the former senator and vice president promised in 2020 to make his presidency a "bridge" to a younger generation.
"I hear that from time to time but I don't hear it as much as you might think," says Martin, downplaying what could be an easy talking point for Biden's Republican opponent in the race for the White House.
Like Martin, many Democrats are casting aside concerns over Biden's advanced years to rally to his side ahead of what is expected to be an imminent declaration that he will vie for another four years.
Even members of the party's progressive wing, who were initially suspicious of the president's social and climate agenda, have fallen into line.
"I wouldn't discriminate against somebody because they're a certain age if they're advancing an agenda that works," Pennsylvania state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, nearly 50 years the president's junior, told AFP.
In Philadelphia, the historic cradle of US democracy, opposition to Biden's putative candidacy came largely from outside the tent.
In Friday's icy wind, a truck displaying a blunt but pointed slogan — "Don't run, Joe" — took laps around the convention hall.
"He's a really weak candidate going into 2024," said Sam Rosenthal, the dissident behind the stunt, whose group is not affiliated to the Democratic Party.
The simmering controversy over Biden's retention of classified documents and his insufficiently progressive politics make the incumbent a "non-viable" choice for the Democratic nomination, Rosenthal told AFP.
A truck outside the Democrats' winter convention in Philadelphia demonstrated that not all Democrats back Joe Biden for a second term
A truck outside the Democrats' winter convention in Philadelphia demonstrated that not all Democrats back Joe Biden for a second term © TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP
These objections may be shared by Democrats elsewhere but they were falling on deaf ears in the "City of Brotherly Love."
Biden, who faced about 15 rivals in the party's 2020 primary, looks destined to run unopposed if he does decide to extend his tenure.
What will remain a mystery for the next year or so is the identity of his likely Republican opponent, with Donald Trump far from certain to stay the course as his party's frontrunner.
"I believe that we are seeing some of the last breaths of the Republican Party," said Jaime Harrison, the Democratic Party chairman, brimming with confidence.
"Take your medicine, take your vitamins and just get ready."
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