Alex Roarty –
Former US vice president Joe Biden is everything a Democratic political consultant should love: He’s experienced, well-liked, and his poll numbers look great against Donald Trump.
And yet many party strategists have a bleak assessment of his potential 2020 campaign: It’s a bad, bad idea.
“This last election cycle, we’ve seen a whole new level of energy that has emerged through a lot of fresh faces, and the party has moved in that direction and wants to hear new ideas and different messages,” said Norm Sterzenbach, a former executive director of the Iowa Democratic Party who now works as a consultant in the state.
Added Jim Manley, longtime Democratic operative: “I’m not convinced Biden is the right way to go at this point in time.”
“The folks I’ve talked to are a little taken aback” by his potential candidacy, Manley said. “No one quite understands where it’s coming from.”
McClatchy interviewed 31 Democratic strategists — pollsters, opposition research experts, media consultants, ex-party officials, and communications specialists — from across the country about a potential Biden campaign. Nine agreed to speak on the record; all others quoted anonymously do not plan to be affiliated with any candidate running in the presidential primary.
Strikingly, these conversations yielded a similar view: The Democratic political community is more broadly and deeply pessimistic about Biden’s potential candidacy than is commonly known. While these strategists said they respect Biden, they cited significant disadvantages for his campaign — from the increasingly liberal and non-white Democratic electorate to policy baggage from his years in the Senate and a field of rivals that includes new, fresh-faced candidates.
“Among political professionals, there are deep concerns because we know the history,” said a Pennsylvania-based Democratic strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly about a party elder. “We have reason to be skeptical of the hype.”
“We heard it with Hillary, and we saw it happened,” the source added. “And there’s a lot of reason to think he would wind up a significantly weaker candidate than Hillary.”
Many of these strategists say that if Biden did win the nomination, they don’t think he would have a better chance of defeating Donald Trump than other top-tier contenders such as Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand — disputing the claim from many Biden supporters that he represents the safe choice in an election when rank-and-file voters are desperate to win back the White House.
“Let’s be honest: He’s an older white guy,” said Jim Cauley, a longtime Kentucky-based Democratic strategist. “Does he connect with the base?”
Cauley considers Biden one of a handful of leading contenders and, indeed, many of those interviewed say the one-time senator still has a chance to win the nomination and would make for a strong general election foe for Trump by potential luring centrist voters and even some Republicans to vote Democratic.
But for a candidate who might expect to enter the race as the favorite, the skepticism could be a wake-up call — particularly coming from a community of men and women that should be naturally more optimistic about a longtime party leader.
“I do think the conversation about him being the front-runner is overhyped, frankly,” said Symone Sanders, a Democratic strategist who said she still considers a Biden candidacy “formidable.” “Anyone who is frontrunner a year out from Iowa, a year out from South Carolina, is a front-runner because of name identification.”
Even if he lacks support from strategists, Biden has the encouragement of other members of the Democratic establishment, including Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (who has said the state would be Biden’s to lose) and members of the US Senate. The one-time senator’s supporters dispute that he would enter as anything but a front-runner.
Alex Roarty –