Should Biden step aside? Dems running for Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District have mixed opinions

click to enlarge Should Biden step aside? Dems running for Eastern Washington's 5th Congressional District have mixed opinions
White House photo
President Joe Biden is facing calls to step down from the 2024 presidential race.

Debate over whether Democrats need a new presidential candidate is spilling into the race to represent Eastern Washington in Congress.

Of the five Democrats vying for the 5th Congressional District:
  • Two think President Joe Biden needs to step aside as the party's presidential nominee
  • One thinks he should stay in the race
  • One thinks "both parties have to think long and hard about who is best suited to serve" as president
  • One declined to comment
The first 5th District Democratic candidate to weigh in on the matter was Dr. Bernadine Bank, an OB/GYN. On Monday, she released a statement saying Biden has "failed to reassure the American people that he's up to the job" in the wake of his June 27 debate performance, which has been widely described as a disaster. She called for him to step aside so Vice President Kamala Harris can defeat former President Donald Trump in November as the Democratic party's nominee.

"This isn't just about what's good for the party," Bank said. "We have to consider what is best for the country."

Bank joins a chorus of Democrats urging Biden, 81, to step aside. Over the past week-and-a-half, a number of prominent Democratic donors and pundits — and a handful of U.S. Representatives — have called on Biden to pass the torch to Harris or another younger candidate who might have a better shot at beating Trump, who they describe as an existential threat to democracy.

After the debate, a New York Times/Siena College poll found that 74% of voters think Biden is too old for the job, including 59% of Democrats.

In her statement, Bank stressed that it wasn't an easy decision to make, and that she is aware of the division her position will cause in the Democratic party. She tallied a long list of Biden's accomplishments, including women's health access, veteran's health care, student debt relief and expanding NATO.

Bobbi Bennett-Wolcott, a clinical assistant professor at Washington State University who is also running for the 5th Congressional District as a Democrat, said in an email that she "reluctantly" agrees with the "growing group of concerned Democrats" who think Biden should drop out.

"In addition to being alarmed by his mishandling of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis, [the] presidential debate and his recent interviews have made it abundantly clear that President Biden is no longer capable of carrying the enormous burden of serving as our president," Bennett-Wolcott said.

Instead of passing the torch directly to Harris, she believes Democrats should find the candidate to replace Biden at the national convention in August.

Biden, for his part, has remained defiant and said only an act of God could get him to bow out. Many prominent Democrats have also come to his defense, calling for unity and insisting he is the only one who has what it takes to beat Trump. Others have stayed silent on the matter.

The frenzied debate and fast approaching convention deadline puts individual Democrats in a difficult position. It's hard to put the genie back in the bottle after publicly calling for the leader of your party to quit.

Of the five Democrats running for the 5th District, Bank and Bennet-Wolcott were the only ones to directly call for Biden to step down. But of the remaining three, only one explicitly argued that he should stay in the race.

Ann Marie Danimus, a small business owner running for the seat, told the Inlander she is firmly supporting Biden's decision to stay. She acknowledged he "had some trouble communicating" at the debate, but argued that he continues to make good decisions as a leader.

"I don't think there are any issues that he may or may not be having with regards to his age that would in any way prevent him from doing an effective job," Danimus said.

Danimus added that it was "completely out of hand" for Bank to weigh in on the matter as a congressional candidate.

"I'll answer with my opinion if people ask me what my opinion is," Danimus said. "But to make some sort of statement as if that has any weight is completely inappropriate."

Carmela Conroy, a former diplomat and former chair of the Spokane County Democrats who is also running, did not directly answer when asked if she thinks Biden should step aside.

In an email, Conroy said Americans are concerned about the future of democracy, and that "neither candidate set those concerns to rest during the presidential candidates' debate."

"Instead, people are now more worried about who, as leader of the free world, will restore confidence in America," Conroy continued. "Both parties have to think long and hard about who is best suited to serve as the Commander in Chief."

Matthew Welde, a deputy prosecuting attorney for Kootenai County who is also running for the seat, said he is only focused on the 5th District and declined to comment when asked if Biden should step aside.

Danimus said she thinks it is odd that more people aren't calling for Trump — who a jury found guilty of 34 felony charges related to hush money payments and another jury found liable for sexual abuse — to step down.

Danimus thinks Biden has what it takes to serve another four years.

"We all know that [President Ronald] Reagan was not performing at his best towards the end of his second term," Danimus said. "But whether or not you agreed with his policies... the government continued to function and functioned well. There has been far more disruption during Donald Trump's presidency just because of his narcissistic, self-involved ways that do not benefit the people than I could ever imagine from President Biden tripping over a few words."

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Bellevue, became the first member of Congress from Washington state to publicly call on Biden to drop out of the race.

"The president's performance in the debate was alarming to watch and the American people have made it clear they no longer see him as a credible candidate to serve four more years as president," Smith said in a statement. "Since the debate the president has not seriously addressed these concerns."

Washington State Democratic Party Chair Shasti Conrad released a statement of support for the Biden-Harris ticket on Monday.

"Millions of voters have spoken across the country, electing Joe Biden as our presidential nominee," she said, referring to this year's Democratic primaries.

Democratic unity is important in the face of an election where democracy and freedom itself are on the line, Conrad said. She described Trump as a wannabe dictator and the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025 — a 900-page policy proposal for Trump's second term — as a "dystopian fascist playbook."

On the flip side, some Democrats have argued that those high stakes show exactly why it's important to think strategically about who is best suited to defeat Trump.

"At this critical time for our country, President Biden must seriously consider the best way to preserve his incredible legacy and secure it for the future," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said in a statement Monday.

Murray, who is third in the line of succession as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, did not directly call on Biden to step aside. She said he must "do more to demonstrate he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump" and that voters need to see a "much more forceful and energetic candidate on the campaign trail in the very near future in order for him to convince voters he is up to the job."

Washington state gubernatorial candidate Mark Mullet, a Democratic state senator, joined the hailstorm of statements on Monday and directly called on Biden to pass the torch to Harris, who is ahead of Trump in some polls.

"I know other Democrats in public office have similar feelings and I encourage them to also throw their public support behind Vice President Harris," Mullet said. "Passing the torch to Vice President Harris would be viewed as an act of true patriotism, putting country above self."

Moonshine Artisan Night Market & Moonlit Movies @ Commellini Estate

Wednesdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Continues through Aug. 28
  • or

Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is a staff writer for the Inlander covering Spokane City Hall and a variety of other news. He joined the paper in 2022 after graduating from Western Washington University. You can reach him at [email protected]