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Could Biden’s debate performance impact the AL-2 race? Candidates differ

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The two candidates running to represent Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District have dueling perspectives on how President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, which many top Democratic operatives have labeled disastrous, may impact their upcoming election.

Biden’s performance that saw him frequently lose his train of thought or struggle to finish a sentence, has sparked concern among Democrats about the impact on their candidates down ballot. One race that will be key to which party holds a congressional majority is Alabama’s 2nd District, where Democrat Shomari Figures faces Republican Caroleene Dobson.

Dobson told Alabama Daily News that she considered Biden’s performance both “disappointing” and “vindicating.”

“For a long time, not just Republicans but independents have questioned Biden’s competency, especially after his own special council earlier this year had indicated that perhaps he shouldn’t stand trial,” Dobson told ADN. 

“That was an objective recommendation that regardless of party should have raised questions in a lot of citizens’ minds as to the competency of the president. I think his lack of competency was further revealed in the debate.”

On the contrary, many Democratic leaders have, while admitting it to be subpar, characterized Biden’s performance as a one-off mishap, a recommitted themselves to supporting him in November.

Many top Democratic operatives, however, as well as some Democratic members of Congress, have instead suggested Biden should step down and allow for a new Democratic presidential candidate to face off against Donald Trump this November.

Figures considers himself in the former group, telling ADN Wednesday that the upcoming election is “about the record that President Biden has.”

“This election is about much more than one debate performance, it’s about what has his performance been for not just the people of Alabama, but for this country over the last nearly four years,” Figures told ADN. 

“I think that’s a significant record that President Biden stands on; there have been historical investments, especially in the infrastructure realm here in the state of Alabama.”

Figures also pointed directly to investments made in Alabama as a result of legislation supported by Biden, particularly when it came to infrastructure, including $1.4 billion in broadband funding and approximately $5.8 billion in funding for highways and bridges, as what he believed to be a far greater indicator of Biden’s election prospects than last week’s debate.

“So I think that’s what people have to look at and assess here, what has the president’s record been for delivering over the last four years, and I don’t think we can restrict that to one debate performance in making that assessment,” he said.

The new AL-2 District was drawn by a federal court last year to give minority voters in Alabama a second congressional district where a candidate of their choosing could be competitive. Republicans have acknowledged it will be a difficult race. Turnout, spurred by the presidential race, will be key.

While election performance data provided by the court-appointed special master who designed the new AL-2 map shows that the district would have chosen a Black-preferred candidate 15 times out of the past 17 election contests, voter turnout between Democratic and Republican voters was extremely competitive during the primary election earlier this year, leaving state Republican leaders to still hold out hope at holding onto the district come November.

In total, 57,520 Democratic voters cast their ballot during the March primary election in AL-2 compared to 57,055 Republicans, a difference of less than 500 votes. The subsequent primary runoff election that saw Figures selected saw 35,916 Democratic voters participate, and 25,142 Republicans.

The congressional election will likely attract national attention as Republicans try to hold onto their single-digit majority in the U.S. House.

Regarding growing calls for Biden to drop out of the race, many coming from prominent media figures, Dobson argued that media coverage of Biden’s mental fitness “further causes distrust of our media sources.”

“In a day and age when the average citizen is so uninformed, especially the younger generation, we need people to be seeking out and trying to be educated and engaged citizens,” Dobson said.

“When we see the media really, up until now, gas lighting any sort of questioning as to the president’s competency, discourages them from doing that.”

Regarding calls for Biden to drop out, Dobson suggested that the 25th Amendment, which includes a clause that outlines a process for the removal of a president should they be unable to perform their duty, could be invoked.

“We have the 25th Amendment for a reason,” she said. 

“I think that their health, while somewhat a private matter, is a matter of concern to the people (and) their ability to do their job – a very taxing job. So I think heretofore, questions about an 81 year old’s health are fair.”

Conversely, Figures remained steadfast in belief that Biden would ultimately become the Democratic nominee, dismissing the president’s debate performance as a singular incident.

“President Biden is our nominee, and this administration has a record of delivering, and I think it is beyond perplexing to me that in this conversation since the debate that people forget that we’re dealing with a twice-impeached president whose mental fitness was questioned for years by even those close in his circle when he was in the White House,” Figures said.

“I think at the end of the day, what we have here is President Biden, who has a strong record of delivering. I’d put his record up against that of President Trump any day. There’s a lower deficit, there’s more infrastructure investments, more jobs created here in this state than under the Trump administration.”

Despite the growing concerns over his mental competency, Biden has vowed to remain in the race, telling his staffers during a call Wednesday “no one’s pushing me out.”

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