Biden’s Arizona firewall starts to crack as oldest Democratic delegate in the state calls for him to quit presidential race

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President Joe Biden gives a speech at the Tempe Arts Center in September 2023. (File photo by Kevinjonah Paguio/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – A 91-year-old Arizona Democrat called Friday for the 81-year-old president to drop his reelection bid, becoming the first Arizona delegate to abandon Joe Biden and expressing hopes that others follow his lead.

Roberto Reveles, a former president of the ACLU of Arizona, is the oldest of the Arizona Democrats who’ll vote on the party’s nominee next month.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the views of delegate Mark Robert Gordon. The error has been corrected, but clients who used earlier versions are asked to run the correction found here.

“Dare to speak out openly so we can make the best decision and one that preserves the integrity, respect and legacy of President Biden,” said Reveles, currently running to unseat conservative state Sen. Wendy Rogers.

Earlier this week, Cronkite News reached out to more than 80 Arizona Democrats who’ll serve as delegates in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention next month. The only ones willing to weigh in on President Biden’s viability were standing by him, despite widespread concerns about his ability to serve four more years or fend off rival Donald Trump.

On Thursday, Phoenix Rep. Greg Stanton of Phoenix joined a growing chorus of congressional Democrats calling on Biden to end his reelection effort, a week after Tucson Rep. Raúl Grijalva became the second Democrat in Congress to publicly call for the president to quit the race.

Of more than 3,900 delegates nationally, nearly all are pledged to Biden. Under party rules, they would ordinarily be obliged to support him on the first ballot unless he releases them.

Some Democrats contend there’s a loophole because their pledge is to reflect the sentiments of those who elected them, and those sentiments can change by the time of the formal nomination.

Biden, at a news conference Thursday night, said delegates should feel free to support whomever they want at the convention in Chicago.

Reveles told Cronkite News that he wants Biden to publicly throw his support behind Vice President Kamala Harris, with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as her running-mate.

“We are not blind followers,” he said, calling on fellow delegates “to speak out openly so that we can make the best decision and one that preserves the integrity, respect and legacy of President Biden.”

He still intends to support Biden if the president hasn’t stepped aside, though, he said.

As of earlier this week, Arizona delegates who’ll converge on Chicago expressed only loyalty to Biden, along with fears about the implications of a last-minute scramble to replace him.

For some, the pile-on has been outright offensive.

“Indigenous communities and Native communities do not publicly humiliate their elders the way the media has,” said delegate April Ignacio, who’s running to be the first Indigenous woman elected to the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

Lorenzo Sierra, a former state House member from Avondale, recalled being on a ventilator weeks before the 2020 election. Doctors had given him only a slim chance of surviving a bout with COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic.

Biden called “in our darkest hour” to tell Sierra’s wife that he and the first lady were praying for Sierra.

“President Biden did not give up on me, and I will not give up on him,” Sierra said. “President Biden and Vice President (Kamala) Harris form the team America needs to ensure we will not fall into a MAGA dictatorship.”

Those who agreed to share their views on Biden were adamantly against him dropping out – though many also acknowledged they’re worried.

“It’s time to put this to bed,” said delegate Mark Robert Gordon, who ran for secretary of state in 2018 – though he expects the discussion to erupt again if there’s “another incident” like the debate that sparks “introspection” about who should serve as the party’s nominee.

“Whichever way we go, we are going to be able to beat Donald Trump,” said Steven Jackson, a delegate from Tempe, who emphasized he supports Biden.

Near-panic set in among Democrats after Biden’s disastrous prime time debate performance live on CNN the night of June 27.

“We have a person that is honest and committed to our democracy in President Biden, and sometimes he stumbles over his words,” said Joshua Polacheck, 44, a delegate from Tucson who’s running for the Arizona Corporation Commission. “He had a bad night at the debate.”

House Democrats huddled Tuesday morning to debate a path forward, with or without Biden at the top of the ticket. Calls for him to quit didn’t escalate but weren’t entirely quashed either.

“Those discussions will continue throughout the balance of the week,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said afterward.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., told Cronkite News Tuesday that he sees no reason for Biden to step aside.

“Millions of people all across the country, 50 states and more territories voted for him … and when it becomes a choice between him and Donald Trump, a convicted felon, the choice should be very clear to the American people,” he said at the Capitol.

Biden won Arizona’s 11 electoral votes by just over 10,000 ballots in 2020. Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state by over 91,000 votes in 2016, and the latest polls indicate Trump’s narrow lead over Biden is slightly wider than it was before the debate.

Trump was the second-oldest president after Ronald Reagan, until Biden took office and bumped them both. Trump turned 78 last month and is now about a month younger than Biden was on Inauguration Day 2021.

Now 81, Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term.

President Joe Biden meets with Mark Kelly, Raúl Grijalva and Greg Stanton aboard Air Force One in December 2022. (Photo by Adam Schultz/White House)

President Joe Biden meets with Mark Kelly, Raúl Grijalva and Greg Stanton aboard Air Force One in December 2022. (Photo by Adam Schultz/White House)

Trump and other Republicans have questioned his mental acuity, and the debate did Biden no favors tamping down the concerns.

Like other delegates, the youngest one from Arizona – 20-year-old Markus Ceniceros of Avondale, who also holds an elected post on a local school board – readily acknowledged concerns about Biden’s age. But he remained committed to the president.

“He should stay in the race,” he said, and “as long as Biden is our nominee, he is the one to get the job finished.”

Signa Oliver, an Army veteran from Phoenix, was among the delegates who expressed fear that a mad scramble to replace Biden – four months before Election Day, long after he clinched the nomination – would invite disaster.

He should “absolutely not” drop out and “if he does, we will lose to Trump,” she said.

“I can’t think of any one person that could step in, even the vice president,” she said. She emphasized that Harris is fully qualified but added, “I don’t believe this country will elect her.”

Biden and Trump are scheduled to hold a second and final debate on Sept. 10, two months before Election Day and after each has been formally nominated.

“I would love to see someone who’s not in their 70s or 80s as president. But those are the two options,” said Isabel Hiserodt, president of the Young Democrats at Arizona State University.

What she saw in the debate “was concerning, and it wasn’t a phenomenal performance,” she said, but Trump is outright “dangerous.”

Delegates like Llama Habern, from Cottonwood, are more focused on Biden’s achievements in office than his stumbles.

“He doesn’t have to be a great speaker, he just has to be a good president,” Habern said.

First-time delegate Robert Branscomb, 61, an insurance agent in Phoenix, acknowledged an “initial shock” at Biden’s debate performance but said the president has provided reassurance about his vigor since then.

“People sometimes get a little shaken, a knee-jerk reaction, but I’m fully confident that the Arizona delegation will stay behind President Biden,” he said. “He’s done some fantastic work over three years; he’s kept his promises. We have a thriving economy, we have people in place to support him to move forward. … He should stick in the race no matter what.”

The succession plan is already in place, he noted: “If something did happen, I have full confidence in Vice President Harris to pick up the pieces and move forward.”

With reporting from Cronkite News Washington correspondents Keetra Bippus, Brianna Chappie, Alex Cunningham, Amaia J. Gavica, Aoife Kane, Isabelle Marceles, Alex MacDonald and Sahara Sajjadi.

Benjamin Adelberg(he/him/his)
News Digital Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Benjamin Adelberg expects to graduate in August 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. He is a multimedia journalist interested in transportation and supporting underserved communities. Adelberg has worked for Arizona State University’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre since 2023 supporting the dance program and has also worked in communications for small and large companies, including A New Leaf in Mesa and U-Haul International in Phoenix.