President Joe Biden greets U.S. Rep. John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut’s 1st District (back to camera), and Gov. Ned Lamont after landing at Bradley International Airport en route to the National Safer Communities Summit at University of Hartford last year. / Photo by Tyler Russell, CT  Public

By Mark Pazniokas / CTMirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont made public Monday what he has been saying privately about the post-debate viability of President Joe Biden’s campaign: The 81-year-old president has yet to show he can move beyond questions over his fitness.

“We can’t play defense for the next four months,” Lamont said of his fellow Democrat in an interview. “We’ve been playing defense for 10 days waiting for the dust to settle. The dust is settling, and we’re still playing defense. And that does not win elections.”

Lamont, who was the first governor to support Biden for president, had remained publicly silent on the troubling debate while expressing concerns about Biden’s ability to win in meetings with Democratic governors, as well as the president and White House staff.

He spoke to the Connecticut Mirror on a day when Biden suggested doubters stand down or consider challenging him at next month’s Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Lamont was in the meeting last week, participating virtually, when Biden told governors he is in the race to stay, a position unchanged. 

One source familiar with the session said a senior Biden adviser pushed back at Lamont’s private comment that even Tom Brady, perhaps the greatest quarterback ever to play in the NFL, eventually retired.

Yes, the adviser shot back, but Brady won the Super Bowl for Tampa Bay a year after the Patriots decided it was time to move on.

On Monday, Lamont did not call for Biden to quit the race, but instead relayed concerns he believes he shares with many Democrats about Biden’s ability to refocus the race on Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee and convicted felon who faces additional charges for, among other things, his alleged role encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Gov. Maura Healy of Massachusetts was the first Democratic governor to publicly suggest Biden at least consider exiting the race, while promising her continued support if he stays in the race.

“The best way forward right now is a decision for the president to make. Over the coming days, I urge him to listen to the American people and carefully evaluate whether he remains our best hope to defeat Donald Trump,” she said in a statement posted Friday. “Whatever President Biden decides, I am committed to doing everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump.”

Her framing reflects the dilemma facing Democrats: Nudging him toward an exit while trying not to further damage him should he decline.

As reported by Politico, Biden noted that Healy said nothing of the sort to his face last Wednesday when two other New England governors did confront him, according to the New York Times and other outlets.

Lamont said Monday the president’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos last Friday underscored the difficult road ahead: A week after the debate, Biden was defensive throughout over a performance that raised alarms over his physical and cognitive health.

The governor backed Biden in the first hours of his candidacy five years ago — not with a statement, but a check.

Lamont made an unsolicited contribution of $3,000 to Biden on April 24, 2019, the day Biden formally became a candidate for president. It actually was $200 more than the $2,800 maximum, and the difference was refunded.