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The morning after the presidential debate, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz appeared on Fox News acknowledging President Joe Biden had a "bad night" while expressing confidence the president could still beat Donald Trump in November.

Days later, he helped facilitate a hastily scheduled meeting with Democratic governors and the White House to quell some of governors' concerns about how to message the president's shaky debate performance in their home states.

As Walz's national profile in Democratic circles continues to rise — and the party grapples with an existential question about whether the president should be the nominee — his role as both a Biden campaign surrogate and head of the Democratic Governors Association has put him in the middle of the conversations.

"At this point in time, if President Biden says he's going forward, then that's where I'm at and I'm working with him," Walz said Wednesday during a brief media availability.

Biden has pledged to stay in the race, but a growing number of donors and elected Democrats are publicly airing their concerns or calling for him to step aside, including Minnesota DFL U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who is running in a swing district this fall.

It's a balancing act for the second-term governor, who has frequented cable news outlets and been dispatched to states to tout the Biden administration in the presidential race. Walz is also traveling across the country to campaign for Democratic governor candidates in 11 states where they're on the ballot, including critical battlegrounds like North Carolina and New Hampshire.

It's a "politically awkward situation" for anyone in a leadership role in the party right now, said emeritus Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier.

"The metaphor I would use is he put his head above the fox hole while projectiles are flying," Schier said. "So much is dependent on new disclosures and new information coming out every day. All of this is extremely fluid, when you have to make a categorical assertion in a fluid situation you are in a tricky spot."

After the White House meeting, Walz told reporters that the "path to victory in November is the number one priority, and that's the number one priority of the president," without explicitly stating that Biden should be the nominee.

Walz's role as DGA chair is largely focused on fundraising for Democratic governor candidates, but Walz has also pushed to focus the messaging in those races on issues such as abortion.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, along with Gov. Tim Walz (right) and other Democratic governors from across the country, spoke in Minneapolis on June 24 to highlight the “major role” abortion access will play in states across the country...
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, along with Gov. Tim Walz (right) and other Democratic governors from across the country, spoke in Minneapolis on June 24 to highlight the “major role” abortion access will play in states across the country...

Briana Bierschbach

On the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision, Walz gathered a half dozen Democratic governors from across the country in a downtown Minneapolis hotel conference room to highlight the "major role" abortion access will play in states across the country this fall. Walz said it was those governors who "stood in that breach" after the decision to try and protect access in their states.

"Democratic governors that were willing to stand up and make sure that those rights were protected, making sure they provided a safe space for women to be able to get the care that they should have," Walz said last month.

Biden's muddled responses to questions about abortion rights during the debate were criticized by some Democrats and abortion rights advocates who said he missed an opportunity to attack Trump and put the issue front and center.

As long as Biden stays in the race, Walz is expected to continue stumping for the president on the campaign trail, as he has done for months. Meanwhile, Walz is also one of a small group of Democratic players who could have a say in who replaces Biden on the ballot if he were to drop out after the party's August nominating convention.

If that happens, party rules say Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison would name a new nominee after consulting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Walz as the chair of the Democratic Governors Association. Their choice would be presented to a group of top DNC leaders to either approve or reject.

"He's decided, as other governors have, that supporting the president in public is the right approach, but there's a public approach to this and a private approach," Schier said.

"He's got to balance those. He's aware of all the private conversations when he's making the public statements, and he's aware of all the public statements he's making when he's having these private conversations."

Staff writer Anna Colletto contributed to this report.