The Biden Candidacy Gerry OShea
How do you explain that a 77-year old former vice-president who finished way down in the voting in the early primary elections in Iowa and New Hampshire and came in a distant second in Nevada is now a virtual certainty to get the Democratic nomination?
Senator Sanders performed very well in those first states, winning two and ending up a close second in the third. He had a seasoned organization consisting mainly of enthusiastic young people, many of them supporters from the 2016 campaign, and plenty money, raised in small donations.
Steve Kornacki the accomplished predictor of political trends on MSNBC summed up the situation before South Carolina by saying that even allowing that Biden would win that state in double digits, he still faced a steep mountain to be in contention for the nomination. All the polls had Sanders ahead by a mile in delegate-rich California on Super-Tuesday and there was a real question about Biden getting to 15% without which he could expect very few convention votes.
The other big polling state on Super Tuesday, March 10th, was Texas, a state that favored the moderate wing of the party represented by Joe Biden, but his numbers there were also creaking and the state was showing strongly for the better-organized Sanders. Kornacki still expected Joe to win but only narrowly. Overall, he felt, going on the trends of the polls and past performances, the vice-president would be doing well to staunch the exodus of delegates to the Vermont senator sufficiently to hold his lead to 50 or 60. Over that he felt that Biden could not realistically hope to catch up.
Then came South Carolina. Just before the vote there James Clyburn, the senior congressman from the state, endorsed Biden in exuberant terms. In stating his reasons for doing so he had little to say about his stance on policy issues; instead he focused on his goodness and empathy and availability. His relationship with Barack Obama was also mentioned as a touchstone consideration.
The indications are that the die was already cast before Clyburn’s eulogy because black voters had decided that Joe Biden had earned their support. He swept the state with overwhelming backing from African-American voters who continued on his side on super-Tuesday, and, instead of the negative Kornacki scenario the former vice-president had the nomination effectively locked up before the end of March.
Considering that this is his third effort to win his party’s nomination and keeping in mind that South Carolina was the first primary state he ever won, his success - after the hammering he took in the first three primaries - can only be described in superlative terms as amazing and unprecedented.
Nearly all the recent polls show encouraging results in the general election for the former vice-president. In fact, since he entered the race a year or so ago Gallup and Pew studies of voters give him an average winning margin of seven points in a straight match-up with President Trump.
The president was impeached for his efforts to unfairly influence the election by trying to tie Biden to corruption in Ukraine. Clearly, Trump did not want to face his experienced nemesis, an opponent with a long record of public service whose progressive message and stable personality resonate with large swathes of voters.
We are six months away from the November election, but, beyond doubt, the COVID-19 crisis will feature prominently in how the people vote. If the president had played a cheerleader role by encouraging citizens to pull together and urging them to follow the advice of his medical and science experts, his approval rating would have gone up as has happened to many other world leaders including Merkel in Germany, Macron in France and Varadkar in Ireland.
Instead he got bogged down in all kinds of silly statements about his own “outstanding” leadership. He gave repeated advice about the use of a drug that has since been rejected by his own scientists, and in a withering outburst he raised the possibility that injecting Lysol could be a cure. Egomania drives the White House response to the greatest national tragedy since the Great Depression, and the people are not impressed.
In January and February, he disregarded the repeated advice given verbally and in writing by his own senior people regarding the danger of an impending pandemic and waited seven weeks before instituting any serious preventative action. Mr. Biden will highlight that tale of deadly incompetence in the debates and in the coming political ad-war in an election that all commentators agree will be an all-gloves-off contest.
Most Democrats believe that Trump outsmarted Hillary in 2016 with significant help from Putin. He dominated the airwaves with bellicose accusations about his “crooked” opponent at monster rallies of his followers. Big gatherings may not be possible this year because of the threat of spreading the deadly virus, but he will attempt to denigrate the former vice-president with any story that he thinks will stick.
The Biden team will have to decide whether or not to obey Michelle Obama’s advice in the last campaign: “when they go low, we go higher” – advice that many Democrats feel allowed Trump to taunt and diminish Hillary at every turn. These advisors urge the former vice-president to be ready for a bare-knuckle contest. For instance, they feel that, every time Trump puts him down with his Sleepy Joe trope, he should reply in kind: Mr. Obese would fit the bill or just Fatty!
Would this be seen as lowering his standards and diminish the campaign? Maybe not provided that he gave notice to the electorate that if his opponent tries to bully him by demeaning name-calling, he will be forced to respond in kind. On the other hand, if Trump chooses to change his approach and engage in the normal levels of argument that accompany every major campaign, staying away from gutter politics, then he will certainly observe the same rules.
Biden’s choice for vice-president will be closely followed. The two top contenders Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris bring different strengths to his candidacy. Not selecting an African-American after that voting bloc won him the nomination would surely be reflected in black turnout, which needs to exceed the support that Hillary got among African-Americans in 2016. The Democratic Party is looking for a black participation rate similar to the backing Obama got in 2008 and 2012.
A big plus of selecting Harris would be that her replacement for California in the senate would, almost certainly be a Democrat. The other side of that scenario will center on Biden’s assured victory in California, without Harris as VP.
The story is different with Klobuchar who has strong support in the swing state of Minnesota and would help Biden in other places in the Midwest. However, if she were selected as VP, there is no guarantee that another Democratic candidate would hold her Senate seat for the party.
Both women are very accomplished and either one would add not only to the Biden candidacy but to the major push by the party to claim increased female support and dislodge Mitch McConnell in favor of Chuck Schumer as leader in the senate. Some inklings from the former vice-president suggest that he is more comfortable with Klobuchar, but the African-American dimension of this choice will weigh heavily in the deliberations. And then there is the modest but formidable Susan Rice in the background.
Polls indicate that young people are showing a great interest in this campaign. President Trump’s abandonment of the modest Paris Climate Accord while calling the heating of the universe a hoax shocked many of these citizens in their twenties and thirties. They can’t sit on their hands and accept the consequences of this blinded leadership.
Tara Reade’s accusation that she was sexually attacked in a senate corridor by the then Senator Biden is being viewed skeptically because he was never accused of anything resembling assault during his 27 years on Capitol Hill. However, If even one other woman emerges with similar accusations, then he may not get the Democratic nomination in the summer. Most commentators believe that he is not vulnerable in this regard.
It is ironic that Joe Biden has to deal seriously with one accusation of assault, a situation that will be used by the Trump campaign, while the president stands accused by more than a dozen women of sexual malfeasance, including rape, and, during the 2016 campaign he boasted about groping women while explaining how they loved it.
The battle of the septuagenarians will commence slowly in the summer months, but the real action will start after Labor Day in September. Will the unusual Biden story that started so inconspicuously in Iowa end in triumph in November? The world is watching.
Gerry OShea blogs at wemustbetalking.com