See more of the story

Many voters in Minnesota and across the country had said for months they thought 81-year-old President Joe Biden was too old to lead the country for another term, while most elected Democrats avoided publicly addressing or even acknowledging the concern.

Then came the debate on June 27. Biden's voice was faint and his message meandering as he struggled to counter former President Donald Trump in front of 51 million viewers. His halting performance reignited worries about his age and prompted some to say he should exit the race.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig became the first Minnesota congressional member to call on Biden to end his re-election bid and step aside "for a new generation of leaders." Craig, a Democrat in a swing district, is being challenged for re-election herself by four candidates, one of them also a DFLer.

Several Minnesota Democrats had insisted that Biden was sharp, and accused a special counsel who issued an unflattering assessment of the president's memory of pushing a political agenda. Top state Democrats chided their colleague, U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, for raising concerns about Biden's age and mounting a primary challenge against the president earlier this year.

But since the debate, some of those Democrats have started publicly airing concerns about Biden.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who described Biden as being "sharp as a tack" in February, said Biden now "must prove that he is up to the job for the next four years."

Gov. Tim Walz, an official surrogate of Biden's re-election campaign, said last week the president had a "bad night" but still should be the party's nominee. Walz and Democratic governors met with Biden on Wednesday.

Asked Tuesday what that meeting would entail, Walz said the governors wanted to ask Biden questions after his debate performance.

"How does that impact how the country runs? How does that impact what an election looks like?" Walz said. "I think folks just want to know and just want to ask some questions."

Before her call Saturday for Biden to step down, Craig said she had been in touch with his campaign about what she wanted to see from the president.

"I need to see him out everywhere, talking unscripted, no teleprompter. And he needs to make sure that the American people have the confidence in his ability to run for re-election," Craig said. "I'm talking to a number of my colleagues in the Congress right now, and I think we need to let the president think about whether he wants to continue moving forward ... He's the only one who can step aside."

Now Craig publicly agrees with former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who wrote in a Facebook post last week that it was time for the party to replace Biden on the national ticket.

"It is absolutely not too late to pick a new candidate," Rybak said. "Having been a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee I can say it is unlikely this would happen without a huge push from the public ... Our elected officials are staying shockingly silent in public, especially considering how many of them acknowledge privately that this has to happen."

"They fear political retribution," Rybak added. "But they should really fear that if we lose this election because they didn't have the guts to do what they know needs to be done, holy hell and history will come down on them like an anvil."

A June Gallup poll — conducted before the debate — found that about 6 in 10 Americans were "very concerned" that Biden is too old to be president. Just 18% reported feeling that way about the 78-year-old Trump.

A Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 Minnesota poll also taken before the debate last month found 52% of respondents said both Biden and Trump were too old to serve a second term.

"I'm afraid [Biden's] going to fall down the steps coming down the plane at one of these next stops," 78-year-old poll respondent Tim La Perre of Hamel said in an interview last month. "He's old like me."

Steven Schier, a political scientist and emeritus Carleton College professor, said concerns about Biden's age will likely put Democrats on the defensive this fall. He said Democrats in swing districts, such as Craig, would have to address it head-on.

"It's in front of your nose now, it's sort of hard to avoid," he said.

Democrats who aren't worried about re-election will likely continue to back Biden and avoid discussing his age, Schier said. Seeking a new nominee just a few months before the election could be riskier, he said.

"There is no obvious alternative," Schier said. "There would be a food fight, and you can't afford a food fight a few months before the election."