WASHINGTON - Coming into the CNN Presidential Debate, one of the biggest voter concerns with President Biden was his age. At 81, Biden is the oldest president ever, and would be 86 by the end of a second term.

While the Biden camp sought to portray energy and vigor ahead of his debate with former President Donald Trump — huddling at Camp David for nearly a week of debate prep — Biden's hoarse voice and halting delivery during the historic contest spurred open concern throughout the Democratic Party regarding his ability to win reelection.


Democratic angst


"It's kind of a DEFCON 1 moment," David Plouffe, the campaign manager for former President Barack Obama, said on MSNBC after the debate.

"It really pains me to say this. They are three years apart," Plouffe said of Biden and Trump, who is 78. "They seemed about 30 years apart tonight. And I think that's going to be the thing that voters really wrestle with coming out of this."

David Axelrod, another top Obama adviser and a CNN commentator, said on the cable channel shortly after the debate that he thought "there was a sense of shock, actually, of how he came out at the beginning of this debate, how his voice sounded. He seemed a little disoriented. He did get stronger as the debate went on. But by that time, I think the panic had set in."

Axelrod added, "And I think you're going to hear discussions that, I don't know will lead to anything, but there are going to be discussions about whether he should continue."

Kate Bedingfield, Biden's former White House communications director, said on CNN that it was "a really disappointing debate performance."

"His biggest issue that he had to prove to the American people was that he had the energy, that he had the stamina — and he didn't do that," she said.


Damage control


Many Democrats also defended Biden, especially on the substance of the issues he debated with Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris admitted that Biden initially had a "slow start" but pointed to the contrast he presented with Trump.

"Can you say that you are not concerned at all having watched the president's performance tonight?" CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked Harris shortly after the debate.

"It was a slow start. That's obvious to everyone. I'm not going to debate that point. I'm talking about the choice in November," Harris responded.

"I got that this is the afterplay for the debate, this conversation that I'm in, and I understand why everyone wants to talk about it," she continued, "but I think it's also important to recognize that the choice in November between these two people that were on the debate stage involves extraordinary stakes."