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Meet the Democrats seen as up-and-comers for 2028 — or maybe sooner

These are some of the prominent Democratic leaders who are viewed as potential future presidential contenders, clockwise from top left: Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.
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These are some of the prominent Democratic leaders who are viewed as potential future presidential contenders, clockwise from top left: Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.

President Biden is adamant that he will continue his 2024 reelection bid — despite calls from some Democrats to consider dropping out because they’re worried his dismal debate performance last week means the party will lose in November.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, was the first congressional Democrat to publicly call on Biden to step aside. Other leaders in the party have said Biden is best placed to take on former President Donald Trump.

But overall, the conversation has brought up a key question for the party: if not Biden, then who?

Several Democrats believed to have presidential ambitions for the 2028 election have now been thrown into the spotlight as potential Biden replacements for 2024 — though all of them have declared they support the president’s run.

Democratic operatives like Adrianne Shropshire, who leads BlackPAC, have said taking Biden off the top of the ticket is a bad idea for these contenders now — and in the future.

“What they don’t want to do is find themselves in a place four years from now, eight years from now, when they’re trying to run, and Americans, including Democrats, have lost confidence in the party itself to manage itself,” Shropshire said.

Here’s a list of some of the names being floated:

Vice President Harris gives remarks at a White House event on conflict-related sexual violence on June 17, 2024.
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Vice President Harris gives remarks at a White House event on conflict-related sexual violence on June 17.

Vice President Kamala Harris

Already number two on the ticket, there are several current and former Democratic leaders who have said Harris is the obvious, and only, choice to replace Biden. Harris, 59, has a national profile and name recognition that other contenders wouldn’t have time to build before November.

She’s been a consistently high fundraiser for Biden and the party. She has also been traveling more for the campaign, with events aimed at engaging with voters of color, younger voters and women — especially on issues of reproductive rights, a focal point for the Biden campaign since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling in 2022.

Harris, like Biden, has struggled with low approval ratings. Early on as vice president, she stumbled in her handling of the root causes of migration. But she has built up her foreign policy chops. Some in the party like close Biden ally Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and progressive Rep. Summer Lee, D-Pa., have said they would back Harris if Biden were to step aside.

Harris, though, has not wavered in supporting Biden, telling a CBS reporter this week, “Joe Biden is our nominee. We beat Trump once and we are going to beat him again.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

A former mayor of San Francisco, Newsom, 56, is in his second term as governor — surviving a recall election in 2021. He is known for his progressive policies, including prisoner rehabilitation, public safe drug-use clinics for overdose patients and new legal strategies to promote gun control.

Newsom has long been an adversary to conservatives, debating Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last year in a primetime debate on Fox News. He has worked to raise his profile with trips around the country, as well as to Israel and China.

There have been some scandals in his political career dating back before his first gubernatorial run in 2008, but he remains a top party leader who has remained loyal to Biden, and helping raise money for the campaign. After the presidential debate in Atlanta, Newsom was in the spin room for the Biden campaign, defending the president.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigns for President Biden in South Haven, Mich., on July 4.
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigns for President Biden in South Haven, Mich., on July 4.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer, a co-chair of the Biden campaign, gained national attention during the COVID-19 pandemic with strict lockdown guidelines. Three men were later convicted for supporting a plot to kidnap her because of her COVID policies.

As governor of a critical swing state, Whitmer has championed gun safety legislation, electric car manufacturing and abortion rights. Whitmer, 52, has repeatedly pledged her support for Biden in 2024. Her forthcoming political memoir, “True Gretch,” will be released this July, and may boost her national profile further.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer applauds President Biden during a visit to a United Auto Workers phone bank in Detroit on Feb. 1, 2024.
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer applauds President Biden during a visit to a United Auto Workers phone bank in Detroit on Feb. 1, 2024.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore

Moore, 45, is the only sitting Black governor, and the third ever to be elected in the United States. He has been described as a “rising star” in the Democratic Party.

Moore recently gained national attention for pardoning 175,000 low-level marijuana convictions in his state. He and Biden shared a close working relationship after Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed earlier this year.

Moore was pressed into action in the aftermath of Biden’s debate, doing a series of interviews to defend the president while on a tour across Wisconsin to try to energize Black voters. Moore said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he will not try to seek the DNC nomination after calls for Biden to drop out of the race, and pledged his full support for the president.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks about the response to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 29, 2024, in Baltimore.
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Maryland Gov. Wes Moore speaks about the response to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 29, 2024, in Baltimore.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg, 42, is the former mayor of South Bend, Ind,, and a one-time candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee. He became more well-known after he ran for president in 2020.

In the Biden administration, Buttigieg has gone after airlines and railways. But he has also taken on culture war issues like LGBTQ rights. Buttigieg is the first openly gay man confirmed to a cabinet position.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks at a press conference on Thanksgiving holiday air travel on Nov. 20, 2023.
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Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks at a press conference on Thanksgiving holiday air travel on Nov. 20, 2023.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro

Shapiro, 51, attracted attention during his 2022 gubernatorial race against Doug Mastriano, a right-wing, Trump-backed candidate who promoted Trump’s lies about election fraud in 2020.

Shapiro previously served as the state’s attorney general, and is popular in the critical swing state.

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at an event in Philadelphia with President Biden on Dec. 11, 2023.
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Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at an event in Philadelphia with President Biden on Dec. 11, 2023.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Pritzker, 59, has been governor since 2019, and is currently serving his second term. He is a progressive — and a billionaire — who has aggressively attacked Trump over his legal woes.

He has expressed support for Biden after the debate, but in a recent CNN interview, said: “Right now, Joe Biden is our nominee, and I’m 100% on board with supporting him as our nominee unless he makes some other decision.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at an April 12, 2023, event announcing Chicago as the host city for the 2024 Democratic National Convention.
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Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at an April 12, 2023, event announcing Chicago as the host city for the 2024 Democratic National Convention.

NPR's Clayton Kincaide contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.