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Joe Biden’s Superfans Think the Rest of America Has Lost Its Mind

Andrea Russell is a fixture on Earp Street, the quiet strip of rowhouses in South Philadelphia where she has lived for 45 years. In the afternoons, neighbors come and go from her living room as her 16-year-old cat, George, sits perched above a television that is usually tuned to cable news.

Ms. Russell, a 77-year-old retired legal secretary, thinks President Biden would fit right in. “He’d come on by Earp Street,” she said. “I could picture going up to him and saying, ‘Hi, Joe.’ I can see him here.” She identifies with him, she said, and admires his integrity and his record. She also loves his eyes.

Her friend, Kathy Staller, also 77, said she was as eager to vote for Mr. Biden as she was for Barack Obama in 2008. “I am excited,” she said. “I hope more people feel the way I do.”

Ms. Russell and Ms. Staller are ardent, unreserved supporters of Mr. Biden — part of a small but dedicated group of Democratic voters who think that he is not merely the party’s only option against Donald J. Trump but, in fact, a great, transformative president who clearly deserves another four years in office.

They occupy a lonely position in American politics.

Mr. Biden, 81, has never inspired the kind of excitement that Mr. Obama did, and he is not a movement candidate, in contrast to his likely 2024 rival, Mr. Trump, who is 77. Historically, he has been far more skilled at connecting one to one on the campaign trail than energizing crowds with soaring oratory.

But his poll numbers have been especially rough lately. A New York Times/Siena College poll released this weekend found that just 43 percent of respondents would vote for him if the election were today, compared with 48 percent for Mr. Trump.

Forty-five percent of Democratic primary voters surveyed said they thought he should not be the party’s nominee — and just 23 percent of primary voters said they were enthusiastic about Mr. Biden being the Democratic nominee. That stands in contrast to the nearly half of Republican primary voters who said they were enthusiastic about Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

The Biden campaign dismissed the latest numbers over the weekend, pointing to strong Democratic performances in recent special elections and highlighting Republican divisions and cash problems.

Mr. Biden also has a slice of voters who adore him. They wave off concerns about his age and bristle at the suggestion that anyone else could meet the moment.

In interviews with nearly two dozen of these Democrats — many of them older, and most of them women — they sounded by turns beleaguered, bewildered and protective.

“I’m sorry Joe doesn’t know how much I love him, but I do love Joe,” said Constance Wynn, 73, of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “I don’t even know why people want to pester the man, because the man has things to do.”

Mr. Biden’s superfans say he deserves more credit for a substantive first-term record. Passing an infrastructure bill. Canceling some student loan debt. Protecting the environment with a sweeping climate measure. Capping the cost of insulin and other drugs. Supporting unions and abortion rights. Putting the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Backing Ukraine and navigating international crises with his deep foreign policy experience.

They praise his personal qualities, describing his devotion to his family, his regular church attendance, his down-to-earth, workingman vibes. They say that they feel as if they know him, and that the swing voters in their lives might relate to him, too.

And sometimes they worry about him.

Susan D. Wagner, a founder of Markers For Democracy, which pushes get-out-the-vote efforts through the writing of postcards, has begun a project to send thank-you notes to Mr. Biden for his work — and to show him he has support at a challenging moment.

“It did seem like he was taking his lumps and could use a little bit of bucking up,” said Ms. Wagner, 66, who lives in Manhattan and is heavily involved in grass-roots activism. “I wrote that in this day and age, every once in a while somebody needs a smiling face. And I put a little smiling face on it.”

The president does have a following among some younger Democrats — both on social media and among those involved with local politics.

Dakota Galban, 28, has a day job in human resources at a construction company, but he also serves as the chair of the Davidson Democrats, a county party organization based in Nashville.

He loves Mr. Biden. “And I feel like I’m the only one,” he said, arguing that the news media had overwhelmingly focused on Mr. Biden’s tepid support. “Does anybody care that I exist?”

Mr. Galban, like many of Mr. Biden’s fans, acknowledges that the president is not a candidate who generates a lot of enthusiasm. But they argue that’s a positive thing — Mr. Biden’s strength isn’t in his energy, they say, but his management skills and his understated ability to get things done.

“He came out of retirement to save the country, save our democracy, a fight for the soul of our nation — he didn’t have to run for president,” Mr. Galban said. “He made it his mission to take our country back from Donald Trump.”

But when Mr. Galban praises the president in committee meetings, his fellow Democrats chuckle. At home, his partner has gently suggested that he keep the life-size cutouts he has of Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in storage.

It is a familiar dynamic to fans of the TV show “Parks and Recreation,” whose lead character, Leslie Knope — played by Amy Poehler — is obsessed with Mr. Biden, much to the confusion of her colleagues and loved ones. (Asked to describe her ideal man, Ms. Knope says, “He has the brains of George Clooney, and the body of Joe Biden.”)

Julie Platt, 34, works for a lobbying firm in Philadelphia and serves as a committee member in the city’s Second Ward. She describes herself as a progressive “ambassador” for Mr. Biden, saying her enthusiasm for him has only grown even as her friends who supported Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 primaries see the president as insufficiently progressive, not exciting enough and too old.

“I don’t see it as a choice between two bad candidates,” she said, referring to a Biden-Trump rematch. “I couldn’t be more honored to vote for him.”

Two years ago, Ms. Platt started keeping a list of Mr. Biden’s accomplishments in the Notes app on her phone. “He’s done so much,” she said. “It’s driving me crazy that people don’t see it.”

Some of Mr. Biden’s biggest supporters, unsurprisingly, are in Philadelphia politics. He was born in Scranton, Pa., and Jill Biden is a Philadelphia sports fan. The president has visited the city frequently since taking office.

Jim Donnelly, the leader of the 58th Ward, in the city’s conservative-leaning northeast, said he had at least seven Biden signs on his front lawn. He has gotten into fights with his neighbors who have vandalized or stolen them.

Aside from cops, firefighters and his barber, he said, “Everybody I talk to loves Joe Biden.” Among his reasons for supporting Mr. Biden, he listed the president’s well-known friendliness to train conductors, his foreign policy experience and his record of job creation.

Some of Mr. Biden’s biggest supporters have loudly countered his detractors. After protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza interrupted Mr. Biden’s speech in January at a South Carolina church, one woman cried out: “You’re an understanding person. They don’t realize that. You’re a good man.”

That was Tomi Greene, 74, of Charleston. She said that she first met Mr. Biden at a town-hall meeting sometime around 2018, and that she had since become friends with Jill Biden.

“He is the right person to take us where we need to be,” Ms. Greene said. “He is very compassionate, and he’s smart. He relates to people.”

Of his detractors, she said, “I just wish they could see and feel what I feel.”

Ms. Russell, the Biden backer on Earp Street in Philadelphia, said there was only one thing she would change about Mr. Biden — the flip of white hair on the back of his neck, which sometimes sticks out over his suit collar.

“It drives me nuts,” she said. “Just trim it!”

Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst.

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