The thousands of delegates descending on Chicago for the Democratic National Convention next month have the power to choose their party’s nominee for president – at least in theory.

Election 2024 Biden

President Joe Biden speaks at a presidential debate watch party on Thursday, June 27, in Atlanta. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

However, party delegates haven’t exercised independent authority in more than half a century. And even after President Biden’s stumbling performance in last week’s debate, more than three dozen delegates interviewed this week by The Washington Post said they planned to do what they were elected to do and make Biden, the runaway winner of primaries and caucuses nationwide, the Democratic nominee for president.

But amid growing calls from lawmakers, party officials, and insiders for Biden to stand aside over concerns about his age and questions about his cognitive ability, doubt has also begun to creep in. Although most expressed unwavering support, several delegates said they were nervous about his chances amid faltering poll numbers and intraparty division. Some were candid about their preference for another option, perhaps Vice President Harris. All said they will vote for Biden – unless he bows out.

“In my heart of hearts, I wish that President Biden at one point had decided, ‘You know what, I’m getting older, there is so much going on right now, I’d like to spend some time with my family,’” said Joanne Chesley, a pledged Biden delegate from North Carolina. “I wish Biden had been able to make that decision.”

Biden insists he has no plans to withdraw. However, the emergence of misgivings among some of the approximately 3,900 selected delegates based on their loyalty to the president is yet another marker of how shaky his position has grown.

The uncertainty threatens to cast a pall over the convention, which is structured to serve as a giant prime-time rally and typically helps kick off the fall campaign stretch with rousing enthusiasm for the nominee. Now, delegates are watching and waiting – and worrying that the swirling debate about Biden’s fitness for office is only weakening Democrats’ chances to defeat former president Donald Trump in November, no matter who the nominee is.


Chosen by party activists after pledging to support the winning candidate in their state’s primary or caucuses, delegates’ top job this summer is to nominate the Democratic candidate for president. According to the party’s rules, pledged Biden delegates are bound only by “good conscience” to vote for him. However, nearly all are faithful members of the party who will do what the national committee – or Biden – tells them to.

However, the week after the debate, Democratic unity behind Biden started to fragment, and the party had to mobilize to keep delegates in line.

The Georgia Democratic Party sent an email to party activists, including delegates, urging them not to speak to reporters and giving them talking points for supporting Biden. “Not every press opportunity is a good one or a helpful one,” read the email that went out after the debate. Party officials declined to provide reporters with their full list of delegates in one major battleground state, Pennsylvania. Neither the DNC nor the Biden campaign has made a national list public.

A delegate from Arizona, 60-year-old public relations executive Karl Gentles, said Biden campaign surrogates reached out to him and others to assure them that the president was “in this for the long haul and in it to win it.”

Several delegates who spoke to The Post did so on the condition of anonymity, afraid that speaking out could jeopardize their standing as delegates. A practical consideration also left some delegates reluctant to speak to reporters on the record: They rely on party donors to help underwrite their convention lodging and travel expenses and don’t want the support withdrawn.

One quirk of this year’s convention is that delegates are slated to formally pick the nominee via virtual roll call even before they get to Chicago. The call is set for Aug. 5, two weeks ahead of the convention, and was originally planned to accommodate Ohio’s unusually early candidate certification deadline. However, Ohio state law was changed last month, making the virtual vote unnecessary.


The fact that officials are choosing to proceed with the virtual roll call anyway suggests some nervousness about Biden’s fortunes and a desire to lock up the nomination swiftly.

Biden’s overall standing among delegates appears to remain strong – for now, at least. Delegates span a wide range of job categories and backgrounds. While some are prominent politicians, most are local party officials and activists for whom politics is a passion, not a profession. Most delegates who agreed to speak with The Post in recent days have made clear that they continue to support the president and hope he stays in the race.

“I’m all in, riding with Biden,” said Joshua Ferguson, a trans woman and delegate who works as a renewable energy consultant in Kent County, Mich. “He has done so much for my community that I’ll back him 1,000%. I’m not concerned. I’m not voting for who’s best on television. I’m voting for who can pass the best legislation, who’s best in Washington, and Biden is definitely that.”

Kaylee Werner, a 20-year-old college student from Pittsburg: “I was elected by my community, and I’m going to be obviously voting with them in mind. They put me in this position to vote for President Biden, and I’m excited to show up and do just that.”

Nancy Nichols, 68, a small-business owner from Tyler, Tex.: “If you are a Biden delegate, you are a Biden delegate, period.”

Michael Tijerina, a home healthcare worker from Plano, Tex.: “We’re all sticking together and holding the line.”


Barbara Faison, 69, a retired county health worker from Sampson, N.C.: “We are all elated to vote for President Biden.”

Others said they remain loyal to Biden but acknowledged that the debate performance hurt him.

“Joe Biden, for over 50 years, has had the backs of everyday Americans,” said Gary Fisher, a convention delegate from Las Vegas. “And I’m not going to not have his back after one bad performance.”

Some delegates said it is up to the president to show that the debate was an off night and not an indication of a larger issue.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer, who last month defeated Rep. Jamaal Bowman in a Democratic primary and is also a New York convention delegate, said he felt a “moral obligation” to vote for Biden. But he added that he’ll watch the president’s performance over the next six weeks.

“If it’s just one night, then that’s that,” said Latimer, 70. “If it turns out this is a consistent situation, then that’s another.”


A Biden withdrawal has the potential to set off a scramble. Democrats would face what’s known as an “open convention” – a long-dormant political tradition in which the presidential nominee is chosen on the fly, historically with behind-the-scenes negotiations and bargaining. With the advent of the modern primary system in the early 1970s, it has been decades since such a convention has occurred.

However, given the party’s tight control over the convention process, several activists said it’s likely that party leaders, perhaps including Biden himself, would quickly urge delegates to rally around a single candidate: Harris.

Cecilia Tavera-Webman, a 67-year-old Realtor and delegate from Miami, said she’s terrified of Trump winning and would still “vote for Biden even if he would have been silent during the debate.” She’s fully committed to supporting him but also said she would be fine voting for Harris if it came to that. “I really like Kamala Harris. I wouldn’t have a problem,” she said. “I would support whoever is the nominee.”

Katybeth Davis, a 40-year-old delegate from Michigan, said she would back Biden “if Biden is our candidate.”

“But do I think we can do better? Yes,” said Davis, who described herself as a progressive activist. “I would support having the succession go through and having Kamala Harris take over the reins and see what that’s like.”

Several delegates expressed concerns that the party’s talk of replacing Biden hurts its chances of defeating Trump.


“We’re not focused enough on President Biden’s record and the very real dangers and threats presented by Donald Trump, which feels like a distraction to me. That’s not helpful,” said Elaine Petrossian, 55, a first-time delegate from Philadelphia.

Tom O’Brien, a 69-year-old delegate and chairman of the Lancaster County Democrats in Pennsylvania, said he was on a call with the state party on Wednesday night that, for several minutes, focused on reassuring Democrats that despite Biden’s poor debate performance, he was their candidate.

O’Brien said he isn’t convinced there’s an alternative who would do better.

“If he thinks he’s going to be a drag on the ticket, if he thought he wasn’t the right guy for this, I don’t think he would have run in the first place,” he said. “And I think he would leave. And I don’t think he’s going to do that.”


Aaron Schaffer and Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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