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Why some voters are convinced Biden won't really be on the ballot in November

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In November, voters will see a ballot with President Biden and former President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, just like 2020. But among some, there's an undercurrent of disbelief that this rematch is really happening. NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Interviewing voters outside of polling places is a standard part of political reporting, but this year, the answers are a little different.

DEBBIE PRIDMORE: I really don't see Biden running. I see them finding some way to get him out and get someone else in.

KEITH: That's Debbie Pridmore (ph), who had just cast her ballot for Trump in the North Carolina primary. And like a lot of people I've interviewed this year, she believes something is going to happen between now and November.

PRIDMORE: I don't know who they would get in. I've got my thoughts, but I don't want to share those. But I don't think Biden is going to be able to run.

KEITH: To be clear, Biden, the incumbent president, is running for reelection. The Democratic National Committee is working in lockstep with his campaign, raising and spending millions of dollars. And a recent report from Biden's doctor describes him as an active 81-year-old who continues to be fit for duty. But there are plenty of voters, especially Republicans, who openly muse about a different possibility, like Ed Boyle (ph).

ED BOYLE: I would think that hopefully the Democrats can come up with somebody better.

KEITH: What do you think the odds are that the Democrats are going to pick somebody else at this point?

BOYLE: Who knows what they're up to? I would be surprised if they don't pick somebody different.

KEITH: In Wisconsin, this is something that the Democratic Party chairman, Ben Wikler, says he hears all the time.

BEN WIKLER: You know, what's the big surprise? They're going to switch up the person, there's a body double, there's - (speaking gibberish). That noise, you know, it's kind of part of the ambient noise in the universe.

MELISSA RYAN: I mean, we're all conspiracy theorists now.

KEITH: Melissa Ryan is a consultant who specializes in combating disinformation.

RYAN: We're just in this place societally where everything's a conspiracy theory and no one trusts anyone.

KEITH: Ryan says right-wing influencers are playing up Biden's age and wild ideas about possible replacements as a strategy to build up their audiences. But this isn't new. She recalls it during the Clinton and Obama presidencies, too.

RYAN: That kind of stuff has always been in the ether, but it no longer just stays on right-wing talk radio. It's become so much more mainstream.

KEITH: Sarah Longwell runs focus groups as part of an effort called Republican Voters Against Trump. She says people are staring down reality and trying to wish it away.

SARAH LONGWELL: Sometimes I've likened it to going through the five stages of grief.

KEITH: Take Mike (ph) from Michigan. He took part in a recent focus group using his first name only. He voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020.

MIKE: Right now, I don't think he's going to be the nominee. I think they're going to do a switch like I've been hearing on the news. Maybe, you know, Governor Newsom is going to come in there. Or some think Michelle Obama will be going in there.

KEITH: Longwell says she's heard variations on this from voters all across the political spectrum.

LONGWELL: This idea of, like, you could swap somebody out, you could have somebody new, let's go third party, like, it's all a part of, like, this can't be the reality that we're living in. And it's why acceptance is so important.

KEITH: Back to the focus group, Mike from Michigan ultimately said, given a choice between Trump and Biden, he will vote for Biden - reluctantly. For their part, Biden campaign officials and allies say they expect that once people accept Biden really is the nominee and that he really is facing Trump, voters will come around to the stakes in this election.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF UKDD, HOFFY BEATS AND BERTRAM KVIST'S "LAZY SUNDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.