Finland’s presidential election campaign heats up the winter months

Russia’s war in Ukraine and destabilising “hybrid warfare” actions on the eastern border put foreign and security policy at the top of the agenda for candidates and voters alike.


November, in Finnish, translates as ‘dead month’, and is nobody’s favourite time of year. 

But the presidential election race is lighting up the winter murk of the Nordic nation, as Russia’s war in Ukraine and destabilising “hybrid warfare” actions on the eastern border put foreign and security policy at the top of the agenda for candidates and voters alike. 

Finland’s EU Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen is the latest, and last, main candidate to join the slate for January’s vote. And she’s left it late.  

The Social Democrat’s belated entry to the race betrays her prospects of winning – Urpilainen reportedly declared only now to allow herself the maximum time away from her EU job without actually losing it. 

She won’t even start campaigning in earnest until December, which has meant that senior figures from her party have been left with the bizarre indignity of making public appearances holding a life-size cutout of the former finance minister just to try and keep her name in the public eye, while other candidates had launched their campaigns months before. 

The powers of the Finnish president have shrunk over the last four decades but the officeholder still takes the lead on foreign policy outside of the EU and is commander-in-chief of the Finnish military. It’s one of the few presidential roles in Europe that is both directly elected by the people and wields executive powers. 

The foreign and security policy campaign

Finland’s entry into NATO, and the geopolitical realities of being Russia’s neighbour during a time of war, have put a spotlight on this election like never before. It’s attracted some ‘big beast’ candidates with experience as prime minister, foreign ministers, party leaders, MEPs, and EU Commissioners on their resumes. 

“We are now at the heart of Finnish security and foreign policy issues,” says Pekka Haavisto, a Green politician who was runner-up in the last two presidential elections and is a frontrunner this time round too. The former UN Special Representative and foreign minister would become Finland’s first Green, and first gay president if elected. 

“People are asking about NATO, the future of Russia, the defence cooperation agreement with the US. And now in the last week there were many questions about the Middle East and how that influences world politics,” he tells Euronews. 

“Even China and Taiwan issues come up regularly, people are following the news closely.”

Haavisto has woven together a broad coalition of well-known supporters from across Finland’s political spectrum – including from the parties of his rivals – as well as household names in Finnish culture and sport to back his third bid for the presidency. 

“It was important to get those people with different political backgrounds behind my campaign, people have already made that choice based on personalities and not on traditional political party links. But for the first time in my campaign we have big names from the economic side too, and entrepreneurs,” he explains in an interview with Euronews as he heads to a campaign event in Eastern Finland. 

“It is an interesting phenomenon, to show that I am not just a [left-wing] candidate.” 

Former Prime Minister Alex Stubb is one of the other front-runners, with most polls showing the National Coalition Party candidate trailing Haavisto in the first round – where the outright winner would have to get more than 50% of the vote – and trailing in a possible second-round clash too. 

With an estimated €1.5 million from supporters and the right-wing National Coalition Party at his disposal, Stubb is running the richest campaign this election cycle. 

He benefits from having been out of Finnish domestic politics and above the fray in recent years, when he quit the country to work in Luxembourg and then Italy after leading his party to a fourth-place election defeat in 2015. A campaign to be ‘President of Europe’ also fell flat when he was defeated as the EPPs spitzenkandidat in a race that ultimately saw Ursula von der Leyen appointed to the role. 

While Stubb, also a former foreign minister and MEP, is undoubtedly at home on the international stage, a perceived lack of interest in domestic issues has dogged his political career. 

Being president would mean he’d have to spend significant amounts of time cutting ribbons, having tea with pensioners and visiting factories among the more routine and mundane tasks of the role, something party insiders concede he is ill-suited to. 


Life on the campaign trail

The presidential election campaign season in Finland is long, with prospective candidates often jostling for attention already during the summer and then, once declared, subjected to an endless round of panel discussions, radio and TV interviews, shopping mall stump speeches, and shaking countless hands at market place meet-and-greets the length and breadth of the country. 

“It’s a tough workload,” says Li Andersson, the Left Alliance candidate who is also the leader of her party. 

“I have to build my campaign around my work in parliament because that’s what I’m elected to do. In January we have a break in the parliamentary session and I will be able to use those weeks to tour around the country, and I’ll be using weekends in December for tours,” she tells Euronews. 

“I love meeting people, and you shouldn’t be in political affairs unless you love people. For me, that’s part of the job,” she adds. 

“There is a strong sense of seriousness around the country when you give a speech and have a Q&A when I go to a marketplace or coffee shop or library,” says OIli Rehn, a former EU Commissioner on leave during the campaign from his job as Governor of the Bank of Finland. 


“When you discuss foreign and security policy or what NATO membership implies, or Russian aggression or the president’s constitutional powers, there is a very strong and deep silence in the room and you can feel that people are very focused. There is a sense of seriousness in the campaign this time round,” the Centre Party candidate tells Euronews. 

Despite the serious nature of the campaign overall, there’s also a lot of fluff in the hoops that Finland expects its presidential candidates to jump through to entertain voters and show some of their personality. 

In the past, they’ve had to endure cooking segments on morning TV shows, while this time around candidates appeared on a prime-time Saturday variety show where a band played their favourite song and they had to tell the audience the story behind it – the sort of format a cynic would say is ripe for exploitation by any clever politician, who can concoct an emotional tale to warm even the iciest of Finnish voters’ hearts. 

“These so-called lighter programmes have become part and parcel of all election campaigns at least in Finland. I take it as a fact rather than think whether I like it or not, I try to enjoy it as much as possible,” says Rehn, who recently stood outside a Helsinki library making lemonade with students to encourage them to become entrepreneurs. 

“People are interested because they want to have the chance to glimpse and see the character and personality of the candidates.” 


Smaller parties get equal billing during campaign

Traditionally in Finland, smaller parties have put forward a presidential candidate even if there’s no realistic chance of winning or reaching the second round. Individuals too can run for office if they first collect more than 20,000 signatures from voters.  

This year there are candidates running from all the major political parties in parliament, including the Finns Party, Christian Democrats and Movement Now, but not the Swedish People’s Party. There are also individual declared fringe candidates who are unlikely to gather enough support to get on the ballot. 

“There is a very competitive list of candidates who have ministerial jobs, and like myself who was head of a foreign policy think tank,” explains independent candidate Mika Aaltola, who did collect enough signatures and polled high during the spring and summer, but whose support has since cooled off. 

“Clearly it is a crossroads for Finland, the citizens and political parties want to put forward candidates who have a lot of credible experience,” he adds. While Aaltola has the foreign policy chops as head of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs – he first broke through after a string of clear-headed fact-based media appearances when Russia invaded Ukraine – his lack of direct political experience has shown through as the race goes on. 

He concedes that his campaign has only €25,000 in the bank, a fraction of most other candidates, and he relies heavily on a team of volunteers.  


“I don’t have a PR agency or comms agency creating a campaign strategy. All that is missing,” he tells Euronews after a turbulent couple of weeks when he endured bad press following a series of gaffes which a more seasoned political operator would have known how to avoid in the first place. 

The Left Alliance’s Li Andersson explains that it’s “important for democracy that you have a broad representative of candidates with views on foreign and security policy, and smaller parties can raise important questions for us and for a lot of voters too.” 

Polling in the middle of the pack so far, Andersson is the youngest candidate in the field but has been party leader for the last eight years. As an MP she sat on the foreign affairs committee in parliament; she was minister of education in Sanna Marin’s government, and lead her party through two successful general election campaigns. 

“This is the fora for talking about foreign and security policy, which is a hugely important part of the conversation in Finland,” she says. 

The first round of the Finnish presidential election is held on 28 January. If no single candidate gets more than 50% of the votes, a second round featuring the top two candidates will be held on 11 February.


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Voters in Turkey return to polls to decide on opposing Presidential visions

Voters in Turkey returned to the polls on May 28 to decide whether the country’s longtime leader stretches his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade or is unseated by a challenger who has promised to restore a more democratic society.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been at Turkey’s helm for 20 years, is favoured to win a new five-year term in the second-round runoff after coming just short of an outright victory in the first round on May 14.

The divisive populist who turned his country into a geopolitical player finished 4% points ahead of Mr. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-party alliance and leader of Turkey’s centre-left main opposition party. Mr. Erdogan’s performance came despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago.

Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo), a 74-year-old former bureaucrat, has described the runoff as a referendum on the country’s future.

More than 64 million people are eligible to cast ballots. The polls opened at 8 a.m.

Turkey does not have exit polls, but the preliminary results are expected to come within hours of the polls closing at 5 p.m.

The final decision could have implications far beyond Ankara because Turkey stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it plays a key role in NATO.

Turkey vetoed Sweden’s bid to join the alliance and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Turkey from a U.S.-led fighter-jet project. But Erdogan’s government also helped broker a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.

The May 14 election saw 87% turnout, and strong participation is expected again on May 28, reflecting voters’ devotion to elections in a country where freedom of expression and assembly have been suppressed.

If he wins, Mr. Erdogan, 69, could remain in power until 2028. After three stints as Prime Minister and two as President, the devout Muslim who heads the conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader.

The first half of Mr. Erdogan’s tenure included reforms that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union and economic growth that lifted many out of poverty. But he later moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his hands, especially after a failed coup attempt that Turkey says was orchestrated by the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Mr. Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.

Mr. Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office through a narrowly won 2017 referendum that scrapped Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014 and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.

The May 14 election was the first that Mr. Erdogan did not win outright.

Critics blame Mr. Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis. Many also faulted his government for the slow response to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey.

Still, Mr. Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in the country that was founded on secular principles and for raising the country’s influence in world politics.

In a bid to woo voters hit hard by inflation, he has increased wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkey’s homegrown defence industry and infrastructure projects. He also centred his reelection campaign on a promise to rebuild quake-stricken areas, including constructing 319,000 homes within the year. Many see him as a source of stability.

Mr. Kilicdaroglu is a soft-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. He campaigned on a promise to reverse Mr. Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, restore the economy by reverting to more conventional policies and to improve ties with the West.

In a frantic do-or-die effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the runoff, Mr. Kilicdaroglu vowed to send back refugees and ruled out any peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he is elected.

Many in Turkey regard Syrian refugees who have been under Turkey’s temporary protection after fleeing the war in neighboring Syria as a burden on the country, and their repatriation became a key issue in the election.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Erdogan received the endorsement of third-place candidate, nationalist politician Sinan Ogan, who garnered 5.2% of the votes and is no longer in the race. Meanwhile, a staunchly anti-migrant party that had supported Ogan’s candidacy, announced it would back Mr. Kilicdaroglu.

A defeat for Mr. Kilicdaroglu would add to a long list of electoral losses to Mr. Erdogan and put pressure for him to step down as party chairman.

Mr. Erdogan’s AKP party and its allies retained a majority of seats in parliament following a legislative election that was also held on May 14. Parliamentary elections will not be repeated on May 28.

Editorial | Weaker by the year: on the elections in Turkey and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Mr. Erdogan’s party also dominated in the earthquake-hit region, winning 10 out of 11 provinces in an area that has traditionally supported the president. Mr. Erdogan came in ahead in the presidential race in eight of those provinces.

As in previous elections, Mr. Erdogan used state resources and his control of the media to reach voters.

Following the May 14 vote, international observers also pointed to the criminalization of dissemination of false information and online censorship as evidence that Mr. Erdogan had an “unjustified advantage.” The observers also said the elections showed the resilience of Turkish democracy.

Mr. Erdogan and pro-government media portrayed Mr. Kilicdaroglu, who had received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists” and of supporting what they described as “deviant” LGBTQ rights.

Mr. Kilicdaroglu “receives his orders from Qandil,” Mr. Erdogan repeatedly said at recent campaign rallies, a reference to the mountains in Iraq where the leadership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is based.

“We receive our orders from God and the people,” he said.

The election was being held as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its establishment as a republic, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

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Turkish voters weigh final decision on next President, visions for future

Two opposing visions for Turkey’s future are on the ballot when voters return to the polls May 28 for a runoff Presidential election that will decide between an increasingly authoritarian incumbent and a challenger who has pledged to restore democracy.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a populist and polarizing leader who has ruled Turkey for 20 years, is well positioned to win after falling just short of victory in the first round of balloting on May 14. He was the top finisher even as the country reels from sky-high inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake in February.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s pro-secular main opposition party and a six-party alliance, has campaigned on a promise to undo Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian tilt. The 74-year-old former bureaucrat has described the runoff as a referendum on the direction of the strategically located NATO country, which is at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and has a key say over the alliance’s expansion.

“This is an existential struggle. Turkey will either be dragged into darkness or light,” Mr. Kilicdaroglu said. “This is more than an election. It has turned into a referendum.”

In a bid to sway nationalist voters ahead of Sunday’s runoff, the normally soft-mannered Mr. Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) shifted gear and hardened his stance, vowing to send back millions of refugees if he is elected and rejecting any possibility of peace negotiations with Kurdish militants.

The social democrat had previously said he planned to repatriate Syrians within two years, after establishing economic and safety conditions conducive to their return.

He has also repeatedly called on 8 million people who stayed away from the polls in the first round to cast votes in the make-or-break runoff.

Mr. Erdogan scored 49.5% of the vote in the first round. Kilicdaroglu received 44.9%.

At 69, Mr. Erdogan is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader, having ruled over the country as prime minister since 2003 and as president since 2014. He could remain in power until 2028 if reelected.

Under Mr. Erdogan, Turkey has proven to be an indispensable and sometimes troublesome NATO ally.

It vetoed Sweden’s bid to join the alliance and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Turkey from a U.S.-led fighter-jet project. Yet together with the U.N., Turkey also brokered a vital deal that allowed Ukraine to ship grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.

This week, Mr. Erdogan received the endorsement of the nationalist third-place candidate, Sinan Ogan, who garnered 5.2% of the vote. The move was seen as a boost for Mr. Erdogan even though Mr. Ogan’s supporters are not a monolithic bloc and not all of his votes are expected to go to Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan’s nationalist-Islamist alliance also retained its hold on parliament in legislative elections two weeks ago, further increasing his chances for reelection as many voters are likely to want to avoid a split government.

Also Read: Weaker by the year: on the elections in Turkey and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

On Wednesday, the leader of a hard-line anti-migrant party that had backed Mr. Ogan threw its weight behind Mr. Kilicdaroglu after the two signed a protocol pledging to send back millions of migrants and refugees within the year.

Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s chances of turning the vote around in his favor appear to be slim but could hinge on the opposition’s ability to mobilize voters who did not cast ballots in the first round.

“It’s not possible to say that the odds are favoring him, but nevertheless, technically, he stands a chance,” said professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

If the opposition can reach the voters who previously stayed home, “it may be a different story.”

In Istanbul, 45-year-old Serra Ural accused Mr. Erdogan of mishandling the economy and said she would vote for Mr. Kilicdaroglu.

She also expressed concerns over the rights of women after Mr. Erdogan extended his alliance to include Huda-Par, a hard-line Kurdish Islamist political party with alleged links to a group that was responsible for a series of gruesome killings in the 1990s. The party wants to abolish mixed-gender education, advocates for the criminalization of adultery and says women should prioritize their homes over work.

“We don’t know what will happen to women tomorrow or the next day, what condition they’ll be in,” she said. “To be honest Huda-Par scares us, especially women.”

Mehmet Nergis, 29, said he would vote for Mr. Erdogan for stability.

Mr. Erdogan “is the guarantee for a more stable future,” Mr. Nergis said. “Everyone around the world has already seen how far he has brought Turkey.”

He dismissed the country’s economic woes and expressed confidence that Mr. Erdogan would make improvements.

Mr. Erdogan’s campaign has focused on rebuilding areas that were devastated by the earthquake, which leveled cities and left more 50,000 dead in Turkey. He has promised to build 319,000 homes within the year.

Also Read: Turkey’s opposition denounces fairness of vote under Erdogan

In the Parliamentary election, Mr. Erdogan’s alliance won 10 out 11 provinces in the region affected by the quake despite criticism that his government’s initial disaster response was slow.

“Yes, there was a delay, but the roads were blocked,” said Yasar Sunulu, an Mr. Erdogan supporter in Kahramanmaras, the quake’s epicenter. “We cannot complain about the state — It gave us food, bread and whatever else needed.”

He and his family members are staying in a tent after their house was destroyed.

Nursel Karci, a mother of four living in the same camp, said she too would vote for Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Erdogan “did all that I couldn’t,” she said. “He clothed my children where I couldn’t clothe them. He fed them where I couldn’t — Not a penny left my pocket.”

Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly portrayed Mr. Kilicdaroglu as colluding with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, after the opposition party leader received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party.

During a rally in Istanbul, Mr. Erdogan broadcast a faked video purporting to show a PKK commander singing the opposition’s campaign song to hundreds of thousands of his supporters. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan doubled down on the narrative, insisting that the PKK has thrown its support to Mr. Kilicdaroglu whether the video is “faked or not.”

“Most analysts failed to gauge the impact of Mr. Erdogan’s campaign against Mr. Kilicdaroglu,” Guvenc said. “This obviously did strike a chord with the average nationalist-religious electorate in Turkey.”

“Politics today is about building and sustaining a narrative which shadows the reality,” he added. “Mr. Erdogan and his people are very successful in building narratives that eclipse realities.”

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Biden v Trump: a roadmap to the 2024 presidential election

For now, a rerun of the 2020 race looks almost certain. With months to go till the first primaries, who is best placed to win?

Republican and Democratic voters have to wait nearly a year to decide on their candidates, but the US’s 2024 presidential election campaign is already well underway.

So far, the odds are in favour of a head-to-head race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the first election since 1892 to pit a former president against a sitting one. So what can we expect, and who might come out on top?

Biden officially launched his reelection bid last month, rallying Americans to join him with a new slogan: “let’s finish the job”. Meanwhile, on the other side, polls, fundraising numbers and endorsements all seem to point one way: while he already faces primary challengers as well as serious legal problems, Trump is set to win the Republican nomination.

He was recently indicted by a New York grand jury over alleged hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, but according to one recent poll, 68% of Republican primary voters consider the investigations into his conduct “politically motivated” and agree that “we must support him”.

The former president is also ahead when it comes to money. The Trump campaign reported a $15.4 million fundraising haul for the first quarter of the year, putting him ahead of the two other declared GOP candidates. “Anti-woke” entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy declared $11.4 million, a sum overwhelmingly sourced from his personal wealth; Trump’s former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, meanwhile, initially claimed to have raised a similar figure, but ultimately turned out to have pulled in just $5.1 million.

Crucially, Trump’s numbers do not reflect the effect of his recent indictment, or the civil suit that saw him found liable for sexual assault. In the two weeks after the Stormy Daniels indictment, the Trump campaign raised an additional $15.4 million, receiving more than 312,000 donations – 97% of which were less than $200.

Establishment blessing

If money matters, so do endorsements. While support for Trump is far from unanimous, the GOP’s increasingly extreme Washington leaders are so far still backing him. Haley has not attracted much in the way of top-tier endorsements, while other possible candidates yet to jump in – former vice president Mike Pence, for one – show little sign of gathering steam.

It remains possible that popular Florida Governor Ron DeSantis could pose a threat to Trump’s nomination. But while he has long been seen as by far Trump’s most significant challenger, the chatter about his chances against the former president has died down noticeably in recent months.

Biden’s campaign announcement, meanwhile, has hardly generated a wave of enthusiasm. According to an NBC poll, 70% of all Americans, including 51% of Democrats, think that he should not run for a second term. And yet, there is no sign of any mainstream Democrat stepping forward to challenge him.

There are two other candidates running against him so far: spiritual author Marianne Williamson, who campaigned unsuccessfully in the 2020 contest, and longtime anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F Kennedy Jr, whose father was murdered while campaigning for president in 1968. But both have been firmly frozen out by the party establishment, and so far, neither appears to pose any meaningful threat to Biden’s chances; there is no indication the president will appear alongside them at any TV debates.

Even with no mainstream Democratic challenger on the horizon, Biden’s nomination is hardly a sure thing. Forced to compete on the gruelling campaign trail while also holding the presidency, the octogenarian Biden’s verbal and physical performance may yet raise further doubts over whether he is fit for the job.

But while combination of consistently discouraging polls, constant Republican allegations of corruption involving the Biden family and doubts about Biden’s ability to serve out a full second term leave at least some space for an alternative scenario to play out, there remains no indication of what that would scenario would be.

So assuming that a 2020 rematch is on the cards, who would be in a better position to win the White House?

Class consciousness

Recent polls suggest the rematch would be a tight race, but the road ahead is still long and full of uncertainties. What seems clear, however, is that both candidates will revert to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid”. And while Biden is currently insisting that his economic plan is working, economic gut feelings could still work in the GOP’s favour.

While a lot can and will happen over the next 17 months, the economic outlook is far from encouraging, as the risk of recession remains high. Record-high inflation has been punishing Americans for the best part of two years: according to a recent survey by McLaughlin & associates, 65% of voters believe the US is heading in the wrong direction, and 79% say their household finances have been adversely affected by the economy.

Moreover, an unprecedented debt default – with potentially devastating consequences for the American economy – remains a possibility, with Biden seemingly unwilling to compromise with Republican demands in exchange for a vote to lift the debt ceiling.

The GOP’s opportunity here stems from the fact that the party’s base has substantially changed, rebalancing away from wealthy “country club” suburbanites and instead relying on a culturally conservative and economically populist middle- and working-class Americans – that is, people hit hardest by the economy’s problems.

By way of evidence, nine of the ten wealthiest congressional districts are now represented by Democrats, while Republicans represent 64% of the congressional districts whose median incomes sit below the national median.

Yet even with an advantage on the economic front, in order to secure a majority, Trump would have to balance the claims of his conservative base without alienating independent voters. This would demand a change in style that the former president may not be willing to make, if he’s even capable of doing so.

Swing states

Meanwhile, America’s electoral geography has changed over the past decade, with Democrats making advances in urban centres and Republicans cementing their advantage in rural areas.

The crucial Electoral College battlegrounds have also changed. Coming off the last two elections, former swing states Ohio, Iowa and even Florida are now firmly in the red column. Eyes are now turned to the the onetime Democratic “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, three states that went for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020 – both times by extremely narrow margins.

And regardless of who the candidates are, the economic and geographical realignment of the two party’s electoral coalitions means the 2024 election will be decided by suburban voters in those same three states, along with the rapidly liberalising battlegrounds of Arizona and Georgia – two states that locked up Biden’s victory in 2020.

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U.S. President Joe Biden launches 2024 re-election bid

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 25 formally announced that he is running for re-election in 2024, asking voters to give him more time to “finish this job” he began when he was sworn into office and to set aside their concerns about extending the run of America’s oldest President for another four years.

Mr. Biden, who would be 86 at the end of a second term, is betting his first-term legislative achievements and more than 50 years of experience in Washington will count for more than concerns over his age. He faces a smooth path to winning his party’s nomination, with no serious Democratic rivals. But he’s still set for a hard-fought struggle to retain the presidency in a bitterly divided nation.

The announcement, in a three-minute video, comes on the four-year anniversary of the day Mr. Biden declared for the White House in 2019, promising to heal the “soul of the nation” amid the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump — a goal that has remained elusive.

Also read | Joe Biden says U.S. is ‘unbowed, unbroken’ in State of Union address

“I said we are in a battle for the soul of America, and we still are,” Mr. Biden said. “The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer.”

While the prospect of seeking re-election has been a given for most modern Presidents, that’s not always been the case for Mr. Biden. A notable swath of Democratic voters have indicated they would prefer he not run, in part because of his age, a concern Mr. Biden has called “totally legitimate” but did not address head-on in the launch video.

Yet, few things have unified Democratic voters like the prospect of Mr. Trump returning to power. And Mr. Biden’s political standing within his party has stabilised after the Democrats notched a stronger-than-expected performance in last year’s mid-term elections. The President is set to run again on the same themes that buoyed his party last fall, particularly on preserving access to abortion.

“Freedom. Personal freedom is fundamental to who we are as Americans. There’s nothing more important. Nothing more sacred,” Mr. Biden said in the launch video, depicting Republican extremists as trying to roll back access to abortion, cut social security, limit voting rights and ban books they disagree with. “Around the country, MAGA extremists are lining up to take those bedrock freedoms away,” he said.

“This is not a time to be complacent,” Mr. Biden added. “That’s why I’m running for re-election.”

As the contours of the campaign begin to take shape, Mr. Biden plans to campaign on the basis of his record. He spent his first two years as President combating the coronavirus pandemic and pushing major bills through, such as the bipartisan infrastructure package and the legislation to promote high-tech manufacturing and climate measures. With Republicans now in control of the House, Mr. Biden has shifted his focus to implementing those massive laws and making sure voters credit him for the improvements.

The President also has multiple policy goals and unmet promises from his first campaign that he’s asking voters to give him another chance to fulfil.

“Let’s finish this job. I know we can,” Mr. Biden said in the video, repeating a mantra he had uttered a dozen times during his State of the Union address in February, listing everything from passing a ban on assault-style weapons and lowering the cost of prescription drugs to codifying a national right to abortion after the Supreme Court’s ruling last year overturning Roe v. Wade.

Buoyed by the mid-term results, Mr. Biden plans to continue to criticise Republicans for embracing what he calls “ultra-MAGA” politics, a reference to Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, regardless of whether his predecessor ends up on the 2024 ballot or not.

In the video, Mr. Biden speaks over brief clips and photographs of key moments in his presidency, snapshots of diverse Americans, and flashes of outspoken Republican foes, including Mr. Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. He exhorts supporters, saying, “This is our moment [to] defend democracy. Stand up for our personal freedoms. Stand up for the right to vote and our civil rights.”

Mr. Biden also plans to point to his work over the past two years shoring up American alliances, leading a global coalition to support Ukraine’s defences against Russia’s invasion and returning the U.S. to the Paris climate accord. However, public support in the U.S. for Ukraine has softened in recent months, and some voters question the tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance flowing to Kyiv.

The President faces lingering criticism over his administration’s chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of war, which undercut the image of competence he aimed to portray, and is the target of GOP attacks over his immigration and economic policies.

As a candidate in 2020, Mr. Biden had pitched to voters on his familiarity with the halls of power in Washington and his relationships around the world. But even back then, he was acutely aware of voters’ concerns about his age.

“Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” Mr. Biden said in March 2020, as he campaigned in Michigan with younger Democrats, including now Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. “There’s an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me. They are the future of this country.”

Three years later, the President now 80, Mr. Biden’s allies say his time in office has demonstrated that he saw himself as more of a transformational than a transitional leader.

Still, many Democrats would prefer that Mr. Biden didn’t run again. A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows just 47% of Democrats say they want him to seek a second term, up from 37% in February. And Mr. Biden’s verbal and occasional physical stumbles have become fodder for critics trying to cast him as being unfit for office.

Mr. Biden, on multiple occasions, has brushed aside concerns about his age, saying simply, “Watch me.”

During a routine physical examination in February, his physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, declared him “healthy, vigorous” and “fit” to handle his White House responsibilities.

Aides acknowledge that while some Democratic party members might prefer an alternative to Mr. Biden, there is anything but consensus within their diverse coalition on who that might be. And they insist that compared with whomever the GOP nominates, Democrats and independents will rally around Mr. Biden.

For now, the 76-year-old Mr. Trump is the favourite to emerge as the Republican nominee, creating the potential of a historic sequel to the bitterly fought 2020 campaign. But Mr. Trump faces significant hurdles of his own, including the designation of being the first former President to face criminal charges. The remaining GOP field is volatile, with DeSantis emerging as an early alternative to Mr. Trump. DeSantis’ stature is also in question, however, amid questions about his readiness to campaign outside his increasingly Republican-leaning state.

To prevail once again, Mr. Biden will need the alliance of young voters and Black voters — particularly women — along with blue-collar Midwesterners, moderates and disaffected Republicans who helped him win in 2020. He’ll have to once again carry the so-called “blue wall” in the Upper Midwest, whilst protecting his position in Georgia and Arizona, longtime GOP strongholds he narrowly won last time.

Mr. Biden’s re-election bid comes as the nation weathers uncertain economic crosscurrents. Inflation is ticking down after hitting the highest rate in a generation, but unemployment is at a 50-year low, and the economy is showing signs of resilience despite Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

“If voters let Mr. Biden ‘finish the job,’ inflation will continue to skyrocket, crime rates will rise, more fentanyl will cross our open borders, children will continue to be left behind, and American families will be worse off,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

Presidents typically try to delay their re-election announcements to maintain the advantages of incumbency and skate above the political fray for as long as possible while their rivals trade jabs. But the leg-up offered by being in the White House can be rickety — three of the last seven Presidents have lost the re-election, most recently Mr. Trump in 2020.

Mr. Biden’s announcement is roughly consistent with the timeline followed by erstwhile President Barack Obama, who waited until April 2011 to declare for a second term and didn’t hold a re-election rally until May 2012. Mr. Trump launched his re-election bid on the day he was sworn in in 2017.

Mr. Biden is not expected to dramatically alter his day-to-day schedule as a candidate — at least not immediately — with aides believing his strongest political asset is showing the American people that he is governing. And if he follows the Obama playbook, he may not hold any formal campaign rallies until well into 2024.

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden named White House adviser Julie Chávez Rodríguez to serve as campaign manager and Quentin Fulks, who ran Sen. Raphael Warnock’s re-election campaign in Georgia last year, to serve as principal deputy campaign manager. The campaign co-chairs will be Reps. Lisa Blunt-Rochester, Jim Clyburn and Veronica Escobar; Sens. Chris Coons and Tammy Duckworth; entertainment mogul and Democratic mega-donor Jeffrey Katzenberg; and Whitmer.

On the heels of the announcement on Tuesday, Mr. Biden was set to deliver remarks to union members before hosting South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for a state visit at the White House. He plans to meet with party donors in Washington later this week.

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