Biden allies see O’Rourke as a clear threat

Greg Nash

Allies to Joe Biden say Rep. Beto O’Rourke could pose a significant threat to the former vice president if both men choose to run for the White House. 

“If both of them run, and there’s a good chance they both will, I think it spells trouble for Biden,” said one longtime aide to the former vice president. 

{mosads}There are a series of reasons why political observers think the upstart Texan could represent an existential threat to Biden’s presidential hopes. 

The biggest is that O’Rourke appeals to former President Obama’s network of former aides and donors, who are searching for a candidate to back for the first time in more than a decade.

Dan Pfeiffer, the former Obama senior adviser who co-hosts the “Pod Save America” podcast, wrote a piece for Crooked Media last month on why O’Rourke should run.  

“I have never seen a Senate candidate — including Obama in 2004 — inspire the sort of enthusiasm that Beto did in this race,” Pfeiffer said. 

Obama himself also met with O’Rourke in recent weeks, a sign many Democrats saw as a passing of the torch of sorts, even unofficially. 

Biden had hoped to win support from the former president’s world — and he is still likely to draw support from that network. But O’Rourke would clearly offer some competition.

“Obama World is a big place with thousands upon thousands of people,” said David Litt, who served as a speechwriter in the Obama White House and is the author of “Thanks Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years.” 

“If you were a senior adviser to Vice President Biden, I assume you’re going to stick with the Biden campaign. But if you were a senior adviser at [the Department of Health and Human Services], you probably have a lot of good things to say about the VP but you’re not feeling that same sense of obligation.”

O’Rourke, 46, is younger than the 76-year-old Biden, but at the same time is a politician who like the former vice president could appeal to voters searching for a more middle-of-the-road alternative to likely candidates from the left, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“I love Joe, but the party needs someone younger,” one former Obama senior administration official said. “We need someone with new ideas.” 

Both candidates are white men, which could be an issue for parts of the Democratic electorate looking for a female or minority candidate to be their standard-bearer. It also sets up Biden and O’Rourke to compete for a lane in what is expected to be a crowded primary. 

Biden has been leading early polls of the Democratic race, a standing that likely reflects his name recognition with voters after eight years as vice president. 

A poll on Saturday from the Des Moines Register, CNN and MediaCom found Biden leading handily in a preference survey of Iowa Democrats, with the support of 32 percent of respondents. Sanders was second, but O’Rourke came in third place with 11 percent, a notable amount for someone so new to the political scene. 

“People are just drawn to the guy,” the former Biden aide said. “He’s dynamic and if I weren’t such a Biden person I’d totally get behind Beto. He’s exciting.”

A straw poll last week showed O’Rourke leading Biden among progressives, another potential warning sign.

The appeal among Obama supporters and O’Rourke’s meteoric rise could spell challenges to Biden in fundraising and staffing, the former aide said. 

Regarding staffing, the former aide said that “people would run to [O’Rourke] if he announced, including some who worked for Obama.”

O’Rourke finishes his congressional term early next month and told The Dallas Morning News this week that he hasn’t “even really begun the serious work of making a decision” about launching a White House bid. 

On Tuesday, a group of Democratic activists — including some former Obama staffers — launched a campaign to draft the congressman into running for president. 

The so-called Draft Beto campaign will aim to convince O’Rourke that he should run, while it seeks to raise $1 million to “give him a head start in the primary,” the group said. 

Earlier this week, Biden advisers were already floating O’Rourke’s name as a possible running mate should Biden become the nominee.

But while Biden is leading in the polls, former Obama officials are skeptical the former vice president can win. 

“I think Biden is doing well because people know him, but they have to be scared by this aspirational guy no one saw coming,” said one former Obama White House official. “It has to be pretty daunting. It’s similar to what happened in 2008, when no one saw the other guy with the initials B.O. coming.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Beto O'Rourke Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden
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