WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is fighting to save his endangered reelection effort Friday as he holds a rally and sits down for a network television interview in a pivotal battleground state, with his every answer sure to be scrutinized for evidence of his competency and fitness to run for office.

It could be a watershed moment for Biden, who is under pressure to bow out of the campaign after his disastrous debate performance against Republican Donald Trump ignited concern that the 81-year-old Democrat is not up for the job for another four years.

The interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, being taped after a campaign rally in Madison, Wisconsin, is expected to be intensive and probing, and two people familiar with the president’s efforts said he had been preparing aggressively. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.

There was broad agreement that Biden cannot afford to have another “bad day,” which is how he wrote off his debate flop. It was not clear that even a so-so performance would be enough to satisfy concerns about his fitness to serve.

While private angst among Democratic lawmakers, donors and strategists is running deep after Biden’s damaging debate performance, most in the party have held public fire as they wait to see if the president can restore some confidence with his weekend travel schedule and his handling of the Stephanopoulos interview. It will air in full on ABC on Friday night.

Biden’s reelection campaign is pushing ahead with aggressive plans despite the uncertainty. It plans to pair his in-person events with a fresh $50 million ad campaign this month meant to capitalize on high viewership moments like the Summer Olympics that begin in Paris on July 26.

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are scheduled to travel to every battleground state this month, while organizers are planning to knock on more than 3 million doors in July and August to do personal outreach to voters in a new $17 million effort.

Biden himself is scheduled to campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday.

Biden was initially scheduled to speak before the National Education Association in Philadelphia on Sunday, but the campaign called off the plans following the group’s strike announced Friday. The president will not cross a picket line, the campaign said. He will still be in Pennsylvania this weekend. Biden will also travel to southwestern states, including Nevada, after hosting the NATO summit in Washington next week, the campaign said Friday. He’ll also continue to focus his travel on the so-called “blue wall” states –- Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — that have been critical for him in the past.

In a strategy memo released Friday morning, the campaign also specifically emphasized that the Biden would participate in “frequent off-the-cuff moments” –- once a hallmark of the gregarious, glad-handling politician’s career that have nonetheless dwindled throughout his presidency.

For Biden, every moment now is critical to restoring the lost confidence stemming from his shaky performance in Atlanta last week. Yet the president continued to make slipups that did not help that effort.

During an interview with WURD radio in Philadelphia that aired Thursday, Biden tripped up and said “I’m proud to be, as I said, the first vice president, the first Black woman to serve with a Black president” – scrambling some of his often-used lines about his pride in serving with the first Black president and choosing the first Black woman to be vice president.

Such verbal glitches are not out of the ordinary for Biden but are getting magnified attention in this environment.

In a hastily organized gathering with more than 20 Democratic governors Wednesday evening, Biden acknowledged that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can be rested for the job, according to three people granted anonymity to speak about the private meeting. California Gov. Gavin Newsom later told reporters in Holland, Michigan, that Biden’s remark about limiting events after 8 p.m. was said in jest, noting that he said it “with a smile on his face.”

Newsom said no one in the room was “sugar-coating” the reality of last week’s debate.

“You watched the physiology. You saw everything about it. It was the breathing, it was the physical, the whole thing,” Newsom said at a subsequent event in Holland.

He said Biden asked all the governors for advice, and he told the president to focus more on discussing the future.

“It’s one thing to talk about the past. It’s one thing to talk about the list of accomplishments, but what’s the compelling vision? What are we fighting for? What’s this election all about?” he said.

Biden is expected to use his rally in Madison to tick through his favorite talking points as he works to defeat Trump, touching on safeguarding democracy, the economy, and “our rights and freedoms,” according to his campaign.

Wisconsin officials including Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and the state party chair, Ben Wikler, will speak. Notably, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for reelection in one of the more critical races for Senate control this year, will be elsewhere.


Associated Press writer Joey Cappelletti in Saugatuck, Michigan, contributed to this report.

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