Book tours are testing ground for 2020 race

Book tours are testing ground for 2020 race
© Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenObama tweets birthday message to Biden: 'The best vice president anybody could have' The Hill's 12:30 Report Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny MORE will release a new book this fall that could also serve as a test for whether the country is interested in seeing him run for president.

Longtime advisers to Biden see his memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose,” as the ultimate test for whether he’ll wade into a potentially crowded 2020 field. 

“It's a chance to step out on his own terms with a character reinforcing narrative that reintroduces himself to America as more than a vice president,” said one former senior aide. “

ADVERTISEMENT
His book tour will be a vital test. Can he generate enthusiasm and crowds and subtly market his character, conviction, values and vision to a national audience? 

“It's a great soft launch for a potential campaign,” the confidant said.

Biden’s book is due to be published on Nov. 14, just more than a year after Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump FBI informant gathered years of evidence on Russian push for US nuclear fuel deals, including Uranium One, memos show Pelosi blasts California Republicans for supporting tax bill MORE lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE.

He’s just the latest potential 2020 candidate to come out with a new book. 

Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenCordray's legacy of consumer protection worth defending Booker tries to find the right lane  Jones raised 0K a day after first Moore accusers came forward: report MORE (D-Mass.) and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenReport: Conyers settled wrongful dismissal complaint over 'sexual advances' Arianna Huffington denies Franken behaved inappropriately in response to new photos Right way and wrong way MORE (D-Minn.) have also released books this year, while Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDe Blasio headed to Iowa to speak at political fundraiser Yes, spills happen — but pipelines are still the safest way to move oil Why sexual harassment discussions include lawmakers talking about Bill Clinton’s past MORE (I-Vt.) came out with a book this month aimed at young readers: "Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution.” 

Political books can personalize a politician and bring their ideas to a wider audience. It’s also an excuse to do the talk show circuit, from cable news to the late-night entertainment gab-fests. 

And then there’s the tour, which can put a politician in front of crowds around the country in what can look like a surrogate campaign.

“It’s mostly a vehicle to get in front of people,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. “They can road test their ideas and it’s a great way to tell your story all over the country.”

Biden’s book tour will take him through the swing states of Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin — all of which helped catapult Trump to the White House. 

David Wade, the longtime chief of staff to 2008 Democratic presidential nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Overnight Tech: Senate Dems want FCC chief recused from Sinclair merger | Tech rallies on Capitol Hill for DACA | Facebook beefs up lobbying ranks MORE, said the right book can make political waves. 

Former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE’s 2006 book “Audacity of Hope” was on the bestseller list for 30 weeks after it published. Michiko Kakutani, the esteemed New York Times book critic, called his earlier memoir, "Dreams From My Father," "the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president."

“Done right by the right candidate, they're powerful tools, because you can reveal a candidate's humanity, use a book tour to road test your ideas, expose them to a national audience and control the narrative from the start,” said Wade, who has been through the publishing process with Kerry and other politicians. 

Some books by politicians are difficult to get through, while others can define the candidate.

“Presidential candidate books are like looking for pearls in oysters: when you open up most of them, you're won't find anything worth your time,” Wade said. “The books that strike a nerve are the ones that capture a personality and inspire.”

He said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump's dangerous Guantánamo fixation will fuel fire for terrorists Tech beefs up lobbying amid Russia scrutiny Ad encourages GOP senator to vote 'no' on tax bill MORE’s (R-Ariz.) “Faith of My Fathers,” originally released in 1999, is one such book. Wade described the book — which spent 24 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and was made into a television film in 2005 — as launching a movement by connecting “a powerful personal narrative to the values of his campaign.” 

“But most politicians don't have that personally compelling biography, and most campaign policy books are dry and cautious, read mostly by opposition researchers and taken out of context to attack a record,” he said.

Political books can be deadly dull — sometimes intentionally. 

Clinton’s last book about her years as secretary of State, “Hard Choices,” was described by one critic as having “the excitement of reading a dictionary — and probably on purpose.”

Clinton also drew negative headlines on the subsequent 2014 book tour when she said she and her husband, former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonBill Clinton distributes relief supplies in Puerto Rico In Washington and Hollywood, principle is sad matter of timing Mika Brzezinski: Bill Clinton needs to apologize or stop talking MORE, left the White House “dead broke” and in debt. It instantly became a Republican talking point.   

Clinton will release a book about the 2016 presidential race on Sept. 12.

Warren’s “This Fight is Our Fight” reached the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list for hardcover and remained on the list for several weeks before falling off. 

But Warren’s book is the exception, according to one top New York literary agent familiar with political books. 

“The truth is that I’m not sure it serves politicians to publish books prior to their candidacy unless they’re conservatives rallying their base,” the agent said. 

“Liberal people don’t buy books that confirm their extant opinions unless the book has value-added material and insights.”

Biden’s book could be an exception, the agent predicted, since it is expected to delve into his grieving for his son Beau, who died in 2015 from brain cancer. 

“Understanding his loss would help endear him to a large swath of voters,” the agent said, adding that it’s likely to resonate with readers — which could win Biden votes if he runs again.

A spokeswoman for Biden did not respond to a request for comment,  but publisher Flatiron Books says the memoir will be an “intimate” reflection on his more than four decades in public life. 

The book — which the former vice president has been working on for much of 2017 — will be a “personal story from a father, grandfather, husband and friend as he confronts the inevitability of devastating personal loss, while trying to balance his duty to his family and his country,” the publisher says. 

Sources close to Warren and Franken point to other books the two senators have written along the way and say their latest tomes have nothing to do with their political aspirations. 

A spokesman for Sanders also did not want to comment about his future plans.  

Those in Biden’s circle say he’s focused on his immediate plans at his foundation and his work at the University of Pennsylvania. 

“I think he’s excited about finally sharing his story in his own words and then he’ll figure out the rest,” said one confidant when asked about another presidential run.