Biden challenge to Clinton would face high hurdles

Biden challenge to Clinton would face high hurdles
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Vice President Biden would have to clear high hurdles to defeat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDOJ backs ex-Trump campaign aide Rick Gates's probation request The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Trump request for Ukrainian 'favor' tops notable quote list MORE if he launched a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The biggest one? Carving out a niche — and a reason for his candidacy — in a race that is being dominated by the former secretary of State.

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While some Democrats have fretted over early stumbles by the clear frontrunner, Clinton remains the overwhelming favorite of the party establishment.

Clinton has a very large lead in opinion polls among Democrats, formidable fundraising strength and a large network of donors and operatives working on her behalf. 

With Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (Vt.) cleaning up among committed liberals, it is not clear that a Biden candidacy would fill any particular gap in the ideological marketplace.

“With Sanders, the pure progressives aren’t going to desert him for Joe BidenJoe BidenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Top Zelensky aide refutes Sondland testimony The great AI debate: What candidates are (finally) saying about artificial intelligence MORE,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon, “which leads me to believe that the only way to go after Hillary is from her right. That’s hard for Biden to do, and I’m also not sure there are a lot of people to her right in the Democratic Party.”

Still, some on the left seem happy to at least entertain the idea of a Biden candidacy.

“A strong primary with a number of seasoned challengers, including Vice President Biden, will only leave the Democratic Party stronger in 2016 and our nation more likely to be led by a President with a proven commitment to addressing the moral crisis of income inequality and the culture of structural racism that's fundamental and foundational to it,” Neil Sroka, spokesman for the liberal group Democracy for America, said in an email statement.

Other Democratic strategists and activists say they’d welcome the kind of robust challenge to Clinton that Biden would provide, arguing that it could energize supporters and make the former secretary of State a stronger candidate.

“I think he should run,” Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said. “I think he would probably lose but knowing that is even more of a reason to run — it will make him more of a Bulworth.” 

Simmons, who was eager to point out he was “fully on board” with the idea of a Clinton presidency, was alluding to the main character in the 1998 movie of the same name, played by Warren Beatty, who spoke his mind in cavalier fashion. 

Biden has long exhibited comparable qualities, sometimes to his own detriment. But the trait is admired, especially by those irked by Clinton’s long-established penchant for caution.

“The advantage Vice President Biden would have in a race against Hillary Clinton is that he will say whatever pops into his head, whereas Hillary deliberates over every comma,” said Bannon. “And I think some Democratic primary voters would welcome that.”

That stylistic difference has sometimes had substantive effects, as when Biden declared his support for same-sex marriage during a May 2012 TV interview, before President Obama had done so.

Yet it remains to be seen whether something like his backing for gay rights would be a large enough cause on which to hang a Biden presidential candidacy.

“We need to know more about what he would want to run as,” said Simmons. “I don’t think of Joe Biden from an ideological perspective. He is broadly mainstream Democratic, and … we don’t know what issues he would want to focus on.”

The latest wave of speculation about Biden’s intentions came in stories over the weekend from The New York Times and The Washington Post. In particular, a Maureen Dowd column in the Times suggested that Biden was seriously considering a run in part because he had been pressed to do so by his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in late May, aged 46.

Beau Biden’s death provoked an outpouring of sympathy for the vice president who, more than 40 years before, had to endure the trauma of his first wife and infant daughter dying in a car crash.

The widespread fondness for Biden in Democratic circles does not change the challenging political realities with which he would be faced, however. Biden’s two previous efforts to win the presidency, in 1988 and 2008, did not come close to success, and there are several reasons to believe a 2016 push would meet a similar fate.

Moreover, there is widespread skepticism in Democratic ranks that Biden really will run.

Several stories in recent days have noted that a longtime Biden confidant, Ron Klain, is helping Clinton with debate preparation, a move that led some observers to assume the vice president was not seriously contemplating his own campaign.

Many see the recent boomlet of speculation as the floating of a trial balloon by Biden loyalists, or an attempt to merely ensure that the vice president is thought of as a plausible and battle-ready alternative should Clinton come to seem fundamentally flawed.

Longtime Democratic consultant Donna Brazile, who served as campaign manager for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, said that she believed “what is happening — and what typically happens — is that many of his close advisers are testing the waters … just to see if there is any viability.”

In the RealClearPolitics national average, Clinton currently commands the support of 58 percent of Democratic voters, versus 18.2 percent for her main challenger from the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Biden receives 12 percent support.

The vice president would improve significantly upon that standing if he were to actually enter the race, but that does not mean he would make the contest truly competitive. 

The plausible prospect of a heavy defeat might be tough for Biden, a famously proud man, to grapple with. In 2008, he withdrew after receiving less than one percent support in the Iowa caucuses. 

Time is also not on Biden’s side: He will be 73 in November.

Clinton, in addition, has already raised $45 million for her bid. Again, the question is whether Biden could narrow that gap to any significant degree. Some are doubtful, but others argue he should not be counted out.

“You have seen from the amount of money Bernie Sanders has raised, that is not an issue,” said Brazile. “The real issue is whether he can go out and compete for votes at the same time as he is vice president of the United States. Does he have time to do it? That’s a big question.”

A Biden bid would also create an obvious dilemma for Obama. While it is highly unlikely he would explicitly endorse Biden over Clinton, or vice versa, every utterance from his administration on the topic would be parsed for meaning.

On Monday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Biden possesses a “unique set of skills” that would qualify him for the presidency. 

Earnest also commented that “the vice president has earned the right to make a decision for himself on his own timeline whether to pursue a campaign for president in 2016.” 

Jordan Fabian contributed.