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Fearful and Doubting Biden, Democrats Face an Uncertain Path Forward

The Democratic Party plunged into crisis on Friday as a wide range of lawmakers, party officials and activists began to actively consider what had previously been a pipe dream for pundits and worried voters: the prospect of replacing President Biden on the ticket, barely four months before Election Day.

For two years, leading Democrats limited their concerns about Mr. Biden’s performance and age to private meetings and off-the-record conversations, leery of undermining an incumbent president in a rematch against former President Donald J. Trump.

But with Mr. Biden’s debate performance on Thursday — uneven and at times incoherent, halting even on politically advantageous subjects like abortion rights — that conversation has exploded into the public domain.

“Biden did not rise to the occasion and is going to cause a serious reassessment among his party: Are they going to say, Is he just having a bad night, or is he prepared to go forward?” the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader who has had a warm relationship with Mr. Biden for years, said in an interview hours after the debate.

Asked for his own assessment, Mr. Sharpton replied, “I hope that it’s a bad night.”

“But to not be able to rise to the occasion,” he added, “is not going to be easily forgotten.”

On Capitol Hill, some Democratic lawmakers openly acknowledged that Mr. Biden’s performance was a disaster, while other leaders offered only terse signs of support and hoped that the focus would turn back to Mr. Trump’s lies.

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