Biden hits campaign trail for red-state Dems

Biden hits campaign trail for red-state Dems
© Greg Nash

Former Vice President Joe Biden is hitting the campaign trail hard for Democrats running in red states and districts ahead of the midterm elections.

On Tuesday, Biden campaigned twice in Pennsylvania with Democratic House candidate Conor Lamb, who polls show has a good chance of pulling off an upset special election victory next week in a district long held by Republicans.

Biden this weekend will headline the Mansfield Metcalf Dinner in Montana, where Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D) is up for reelection in November.

The following weekend, he’ll headline the North Dakota Democratic-NPL convention, campaigning on behalf of Sen. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampJoe Manchin's secret Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda Effective and profitable climate solutions are within the nation's farms and forests MORE, another Democrat who, like Tester, is facing a reelection fight in a state won by President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE.

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The appearances highlight how Biden’s star power is attractive to Democrats seeking to hold on to or win back offices on political ground where their party is vulnerable.

 

It also shows the concerted effort that Biden is making to remain front and center on the national stage as he considers whether to run for president for a third time. 

Biden has been crisscrossing the country and is expected to appear at 30 to 40 campaign events for Democrats running for the House, according to sources close to the former vice president. 

Associates say he has yet to make a decision about running in 2020.

“He’s thinking about it and this is a nice way for him to think about it,” one Biden confidant said.  

“He’s playing this just right. He’s using the political capital he has to champion causes he cares about,” the confidant added. “It’s a smart play to help not just those on the national level but local and county as well.” 

To date, Biden has been on the campaign trail more than a number of high-profile Democrats who could end up being rivals to him for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. The cast includes Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (Mass.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE (Calif.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTreat broadband as infrastructure and we have a chance to get it right House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors To make energy green, remove red tape MORE (N.Y.).

His campaign stops also point to his potential strength in red and purple states, which some Democrats think could make him a powerful general election candidate in 2020. Progressive stars, including Warren and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAngst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE (I-Vt.), may not be as welcome stumping for the likes of Lamb, Heitkamp and Tester, given the political leanings of their constituencies.

Of course, this also raises questions about whether Biden can win the hearts of progressives if he is competing for the Democratic nomination against liberal stars in the party.

His advocates insist that he can appeal to both factions. They say there is a longing for the Obama era and Biden is able to fill that void. He also connects with a wide swath of voters across what remains a divided party. 

Those close to Tester say Biden was an obvious choice for the dinner this weekend.

“We know that Vice President BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE has been strong in his work for working families and that’s something that’s important here in Montana,” said one Tester associate.

While Biden is in demand, his age is a concern to some Democrats. He would be nearly 78 years old on Election Day in 2020. There is also a lingering feeling among Democrats that the party needs to make room for new voices. 

Even major donors to former President Obama aren’t committing to Biden, as The Hill reported in August.

But even doubters of Biden think he could play a pivotal role in both 2018 and 2020.

“Even though he might not be the perfect candidate for 2020, he could make an enormous contribution mobilizing voters, building enthusiasm and attacking President Trump,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, adding that Biden “can command an audience.” 

“In the best scenario, he can encourage newer voices to step forward and actually run,” he said. “Given his love of party and country, this is probably as important as actually winning the presidency.” 

For the time being, Biden aides and associates say his aim is 2018 and helping Democrats win at all levels. 

“He’s more or less an open door,” said one Biden aide. “Anywhere he can be an asset and be helpful, that’s where he’ll be.”