Biden a weak front-runner as race heats up

James Oliphant –
As summer ends and the race for the 2020 Democratic US presidential nomination shifts into a higher gear, former Vice President Joe Biden’s perilous position atop the vast field stands to be tested under even more pressure.
Biden, 76, has consistently maintained a comfortable lead over his rivals. But his campaign has been plagued by doubts over his age, fitness for office and whether, as a moderate, he can be a standard-bearer for a party that has grown increasingly liberal. Those questions are likely to be magnified in the coming weeks.
Labor Day serves as the traditional marker for the White House race to intensify, with five months to go until the first nominating contest — February in Iowa — in the state-by-state process of picking the party’s nominee to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
Democrats enter the next phase of the contest lacking a true consensus candidate, one who can unite a party fractured along ideological and generational lines. While Biden enjoys widespread name recognition because of his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president and a long Senate career before that, he stands to suffer as voters begin to focus on other candidates, according to strategists.
That may open the door wider for his closest competitors, US Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — or another rival — to seize momentum.
“Biden is the weakest front-runner in a contested primary in a long time,” said Democratic operative Joel Payne, who worked on 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign and attributed Biden’s standing largely to voters’ familiarity with him rather than his performance on the campaign trail.
The Democratic field shrank a bit in the past month, with US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand dropping out last week. But 20 contenders continue to vie for the nomination. Ten Democrats will square off on September 12 at a debate in Houston. Right now, Democratic strategist Delacey Skinner said, “most people don’t even know who most of the candidates are.”
Jeff Link, a longtime Democratic strategist in Iowa, likened the primary-season campaign to an American football game and said Labor Day marks the start of second half.
“The only thing that matters is the fourth quarter,” Link said.
Biden has weathered fierce attacks from his rivals and his own penchant for misstatements to remain in front. Yet his string of gaffes and episodes of faulty memory have sparked concern over his age and his capacity to battle Trump next year if he is the party’s nominee.
Biden is also viewed sceptically among some Democrats who dismiss him as an out-of-touch moderate in a party moving leftward. Even so, “if Biden is able to minimise his vulnerabilities, it’s still his race to lose,” Payne said.
Beyond Biden, the story of the contest’s first few months was the rise of Warren, whose relentless campaign schedule and formidable state-level organisation have made her a serious threat to win the nomination.
She particularly has emerged as a rival to Biden in Iowa, a state he desperately needs to win to reinforce his argument that he is the candidate best equipped to take down Trump.
But questions persist about Warren’s ambitious liberal agenda — she advocates “big, structural change” — and whether she can attract moderate and black voters, as Biden does.
Skinner said Warren can expand her appeal beyond siphoning liberal voters from Sanders and other candidates on the left.
“She actually is starting to draw moderates. She doesn’t feel like a Bernie (Sanders). She doesn’t feel like she’s out to blow things up,” Skinner said. “I see her as someone who can draw supporters from Bernie
and from Biden.” — Reuters