‘Baby boomers are doing the heavy lifting’: Biden’s campaign seeks to build on older voters’ support

Gussie Farris, 86, spends no time worrying about the ages of the oldest presidential candidates in American history. For those who do, this loyal supporter of President Joe Biden has sharp words about Donald Trump.

“Because Trump is big and loud, he doesn’t come off as old as maybe Biden does, but he’s way less capable in the brain area,” Farris said with a laugh, breaking a self-made rule about saying the former president’s name aloud.

Farris exemplifies a trend Biden’s campaign is seeking to build on: strong performance among seniors — a group that polls show spends more time watching local and national news, thinks more about the 2024 election, and was alive in the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War, a period Biden has attempted to tap into as he casts Trump as a threat to democracy.

National and swing-state polls have shown Biden facing steep challenges winning over younger and non-White voters — constituencies that make up a key part of the Democratic coalition. But he’s made gains among older voters, a group typically won handily by Republicans. It’s a prized slice of the electorate, with high turnout rates and outsized sway in several key battleground states.

Biden’s campaign this week launched a new effort to court seniors — one it said will combine traditional organizing tactics like phone-banking and postcards with events like bingo nights and pickleball. His campaign touted endorsements from several groups focused on protecting Social Security, Medicare and pensions, and dispatched surrogates across the country to speak with senior groups.

First lady Jill Biden, who traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Thursday as part of the initiative’s launch, pushed back on criticism of her husband’s age, which Trump and Republicans have sought to make a focal point of the 2024 race.

“Joe and that other guy are essentially the same age, let’s not be fooled,” she said. “But what this election is about, it’s about the character of the person leading our country.”

Biden insisted that her husband is “a healthy, wise 81-year-old, ready and willing to work for you every day to make our future better.”

“Joe isn’t one of the most effective presidents of our lives in spite of his age, but because of it,” she said.

As Trump turns 78 on Friday — just three years younger than Biden’s 81 — age is an unmistakable part of the bitterly contested race for the White House. But the Biden campaign is suddenly embracing age in a different way by turning to seniors like Farris to build a critical piece of his coalition.

“I have people that come up to me because they know I’m a Democrat and say, ‘What can I do? I have to do something, find me something to do.’ I’ve never had that happen before,” said Farris, a retired school counselor. “They don’t want Trump. They don’t want him to be the president. And I think they’re scared. They’re worried about our democracy and what he would do.”

Grand Rapids and surrounding Kent County serve as a bellwether within the broader battleground of Michigan. Biden won here by 6 points in 2020, contributing to his statewide victory, after Trump narrowly carried both the county and state four years earlier

“We could determine who sits in the White House. It’s a swing state. We have to retain that it’s blue,” said Linda Van Werden, a retired real estate agent who became politically awakened and engaged after Trump’s 2016 victory. “I never thought I’d be one of those people holding up a political sign or being involved, but I can’t sit back anymore and watch this happen.”

Biden is working to become the first Democratic presidential candidate in nearly a quarter century to win voters 65 and older. Since Al Gore narrowly carried the senior vote in 2000, Republican candidates have consistently won the senior vote.

In 2024, baby boomers now make up a wide majority of the senior vote for the first time — an enticing demographic shift the Biden campaign is seizing upon in Michigan and across the country.

“I think baby boomers are doing the heavy lifting of the work right now,” said Kim Gates, chairwoman of the Kent County Democratic Party, who also became active in politics after the 2016 election. “They’re at a point in their life where they’ve seen how politics has changed and recognize that it’s a priority for them.”

As other parts of the Biden coalition are fraying, the campaign is putting a renewed focus on seniors to volunteer and vote. Yet a sense of deep disappointment weighs heavy on Grand Rapids retiree Barbara Howard, 70, who voted for Biden four years ago but won’t this time.

“Right now, I’m not going to vote for president,” said Howard, a supporter of Palestinian rights who calls Biden’s backing of Israel a betrayal. “I just feel like I need to make a statement that this is unacceptable. Where are we are at in this country? It doesn’t really matter if it’s Biden or Trump.”

Judy and Nick Herrick, both 80 and retired, say the president’s steady hand and commitment to protecting democracy inspires them to volunteer for Biden’s reelection. They often canvass and register younger voters in Grand Rapids.

“What do they say, 80 is the new 60?” Judy Herrick said with a laugh. “What’s exciting for me is the opportunity for seniors to talk with young folks … if you’re in your 20s, or the 30s, what impact is having a president like Trump with you?”

Nick Herrick is quick to defend the president’s age to anyone who asks.

“He’s one year older than me. And when we get done here … I’m going to go home and water ski,” Herrick said. “Age is sort of a thing in the mind, and I look at his thinking and his approach to things looks pretty good to me, especially when you view it in contrast to what the alternative is.”

That contrast with Trump is what the Biden campaign is investing millions on television ads targeting some favorite programs of seniors, including “Wheel of Fortune” and the local news.

“The senior generation, values and character are important to us,” Farris said. “I don’t think they could vote someone like, like Trump with no sense of morals or character or ethics, or, you know, the kind of tradition that most seniors have.”

CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this story.

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