NEW JERSEY — In the world of politics, especially in New Jersey, all it takes is one bad public appearance to ignite a firestorm of controversy. And that’s certainly been the case for President Joe Biden, whose recent debate with former president Donald Trump is already causing divided opinions about his re-election campaign among Garden State Democrats.

The 81-year-old president’s performance in a war of words with Trump last month – which included stammering, apparent memory lapses and other speaking gaffes – renewed questions about Biden’s health, which polling has indicated is a top concern for voters. Trump, 78, also faces questions about whether he is unfit to serve in what is arguably the toughest job in the nation.

Biden is facing mounting calls by some Democrats to let someone else take up the party flag in the Nov. 5 presidential election against Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. See Related: Should Biden Stay In The Race? (Take Our Patch Survey)

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Biden has said he is staying in the race, insisting in a defiant letter to Democratic lawmakers that he is best candidate to defeat Trump in November.

It’s worth noting that Biden captured overwhelming victories in this year’s Democratic Party primary elections, although some pundits say this year’s contests were low-turnout and lacked any credible alternative choices. Regardless, Biden has said that Democrat voters have spoken at the ballot box, and he plans to honor their decision.

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“It was their decision to make,” the president said. “Not the press, not the pundits, not the big donors, not any selected group of individuals, no matter how well intentioned. The voters – and the voters alone – decide the nominee of the Democratic Party.”

NEW JERSEY DEMOCRATS: DIVIDED OPINIONS ON BIDEN

Not everyone agrees with Biden, however.

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U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), who has consistently supported many of the Biden administration’s policies and initiatives over the last four years, was one of the first high-profile New Jersey politicians to urge the president to drop his re-election bid.

Like other Democrats who are asking the same, Sherrill has praised Biden for “honorably serving this country for more than 50 years with grace and dignity.” But after his debate showing against Trump, the congresswoman is now asking him to “declare he won’t run for re-election and will help lead us through a process toward a new nominee.”

“One of President Biden’s most significant accomplishments was defeating a man who represented an existential threat to the nation and the institutions upon which this country has been founded: former President, Donald J. Trump,” Sherrill said.

“That’s why I ran for office in the first place,” she added. “I know we cannot allow Trump to return to the White House and implement his dangerous Project 2025 plan that hurts the middle class and threatens rights and freedoms, including abortion.”

The congresswoman continued:

“I have heard from people in my district who are united in their concern for our country and our future. They want a leader who can continue to build on our successes but is also able to turn the nation’s attention to the urgent threat that Trump presents to our democracy, to our freedoms, and to our country. When I think of my four children and all of the rights that another Trump presidency endangers, and in light of the recent Supreme Court decision that gave inordinate power to the President of the United States, the stakes are too high – and the threat is too real – to stay silent. I realize this is hard, but we have done hard things in pursuit of democracy since the founding of this nation. It is time to do so again.”

SOMA Action, a progressive advocacy group based in Essex County, applauded Sherrill’s stance, calling it “courageous intervention” in the ongoing debate about Biden’s candidacy.

According to the group, the question isn’t whether Joe Biden has been a good president – he has. The question is whether Joe Biden is the best possible candidate to prosecute the case against Trump and beat him in November.

“While we respect President Biden’s service to our country, we believe it’s time for new leadership,” said Jessica James, president of SOMA Action.

Jersey City Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Steven Fulop strongly disagreed, issuing a rebuttal to Sherrill’s statement.

“I just don’t think this press release is helpful,” Fulop opined. “The voters voted for him in a primary and he is the same person he was three weeks ago when you (and others) were praising him. A bad debate or Washington pundits commenting are not reasons to walk away from him. He is one of the most successful presidents in modern history and he deserves a second term. We should all be digging in and working harder on his behalf – not creating chaos.”

New Jersey Sen. Britnee Timberlake also said she’s backing Biden.

“Let’s not bury the lead here,” Timberlake argued. “President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are the Democratic voters’ choice who won the primary, making them the best candidates in the race.”

“As a delegate at the Democratic National Convention this August, I am sticking with them because they are who I and the Democratic people voted for, and who we need to focus on to defeat Trump this November,” she said. “The Biden-Harris team beat Trump once, and they can beat him again.”

There’s also another angle to consider, Timberlake pointed out – is it “discriminatory” to disqualify Biden and ignore Harris as a perfectly suitable replacement?

“Prior to the race beginning, we were aware of the president’s age and his lifelong public battle with a slight stutter,” she said. “These aspects should not be used against him.”

“If any president cannot complete their term, that is what the vice president is there for, and Kamala Harris is very capable of stepping in,” Timberlake said. “Ignoring Harris, a qualified Black and Asian woman, for potential replacement if needed reflects subliminal racism and sexism, which is wrong.”

LeRoy Jones, the chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, also says he is in Biden’s corner.

“We need to work harder and worry less,” Jones recently said, urging Democrats to “stay focused” and keep their eyes on the prize.

“The question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now,” Jones said. “And it’s time for it to end. We have one job. And that is to beat Donald Trump.”

This goal – to “beat Trump” if he becomes the Republican nominee – is also on the mind of U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez Jr. (NJ-8), who recently weighed in on the Biden-debate controversy. Read More: Rob Menendez Stands By Biden: ‘Productive Presidency’

“This has been one of the most productive presidencies in American history,” Menendez said. “The Biden Administration has delivered historic investments in our infrastructure – including the Gateway Program – built back our economy, taken presidential action on gun violence prevention and environmental protections, and stood tall for working families and unions across the country.”

“This stands in direct contrast to what we witnessed under the Trump presidency and the trauma he caused for so many of our communities,” he continued. “We need to remember those four years and what another Trump presidency would mean for all of us.”

“Yes, I have heard the concerns that have been raised over the last several weeks, and I urge the Biden campaign to continue to be transparent with the American people in the coming days, weeks, and months to alleviate any concerns,” the congressman concluded. “But we must remain focused on the mission at hand, which is to not just beat Donald Trump in November but to ensure a future that is reflective of our American values. And that is exactly what we will do.”

Other New Jersey politicians remain on the fence, however.

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (NJ-3) has voiced “concerns” about President Biden, and said he is “open” to discussions about finding a replacement.

“I mean, this is the presidency of the United States,” Kim commented earlier this week. “The question is, can Biden win, and is there somebody that can potentially be stronger?”

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