Biden leans into Obama identification

Former Vice President Joe Biden is labeling himself an “Obama-Biden Democrat” as he seeks to straddle a line to appeal to centrists and progressives in the Democratic Party.

Biden’s strategy is intended to strengthen his appeal to white working-class men — who largely fled the Democratic Party in support of President Trump in 2016 — while keeping him relevant with an Obama coalition of women, minority and younger voters.

{mosads}The moves also ties Biden closely to former President Obama, a popular political figure whose appeal is strong with African-American voters — but who also won states dominated by Trump in 2016 such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. 

Democrats ceded those three states and Wisconsin to Trump in the last presidential cycle, and may need to win back that ground to unseat him.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Biden referred to himself as an “Obama-Biden Democrat and, man, I’m proud of it.”

He added that “the vast majority of members of the Democratic Party are still basically liberal to moderate Democrats in the traditional sense.”

Biden has yet to enter the Democratic White House race but is widely expected to do so after Easter. He will face a crowded field of left-leaning candidates who are trying to tap into the enthusiasm in their party’s progressive wing. 

The former vice president is seen as more of a centrist, and his past positions and work on everything from the Iraq War to the Anita Hill hearings could pose difficulties to winning over progressives. 

More recently, Biden has had to deal with questions about his behavior with women after several people came forward about unwanted physical contact from him. The story dominated the news cycle last week and was parodied over the weekend on “Saturday Night Live.”

Biden wants to move past that narrative by going back to what is a core argument of his coming campaign: that he is a Democrat who can represent the entire party while also defeating Trump. 

“I think this is his clearest pitch so far,” said Julian Zelizer a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

The Obama-Biden label is “an effort to say that his coalition includes moderates and progressives on one ticket,” Zelizer added. “He is hoping that none of the other candidates can make the same pitch. He will take up two lanes, not one.” 

In re-creating the Obama coalition and in tying the former president’s name to his own, Biden is tapping into what some Democrats believe is the secret sauce. A Gallup poll out in January said 54 percent of Democrats would prefer that their party move more to the center, while 41 percent of those surveyed said they would rather it shift to the left. 

Biden is tapping into those sentiments as well as a lingering Obama nostalgia for many Democrats, strategists say. 

“It’s not yet clear which, if any, 2020 Dem can re-create Obama’s coalition, but Biden has the most obvious argument as to why it’s him,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “And if that wasn’t clear, he’s going to invoke Obama to remind you.”

Obama, who remains hugely popular among Democrats, has largely removed himself from the 2020 discussion. While Biden would love nothing more than an Obama endorsement, the former president and his advisers have made clear that he will not endorse Biden or any candidate in the primary. And Obama remained quiet as Biden battled the recent allegations. 

With his former boss firmly on the sidelines, re-creating the Obama coalition may prove to be easier said than done, strategists say.

“Biden is trying to reconstitute an Obama coalition that’s quite splintered,” said strategist Basil Smikle, who served as the former executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. “It’s a line he’ll find really difficult to straddle in issues like criminal justice reform and immigration.”

When he spoke to reporters on Friday, Biden rejected labels placed upon him by political observers. When a reporter asked him about comments he had made about being the most progressive candidate in the race, Biden replied, “No, I said liberal. I didn’t say progressive.” 

At the same time, he shot down the idea that a Democrat needed to be “socialist” to be labeled a “progressive.” 

Then, to prove his point, he turned to the midterm election.

“Show me the really left, left, left-winger who beat a Republican,” he said, according to The Associated Press. 

The remark is a shot across the bow at candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is also making a concerted play for white, working-class voters.

One Democratic strategist said while it remains to be seen if Biden’s strategy is effective, the former vice president is “certainly seizing on the best possible strategy: Obama.”

“If I were him, I’d get up there and every single day I’d just say Obama, Obama, Obama and by the way I was his loyal VP,” the strategist said. 

Another Democratic strategist Chris Lehane put it this way: “His target is the rank-and-file Democratic voter who hold the Obama years in high regard as a moment of hope and progress.”

Tags 2020 Democratic primary Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Joe Biden Michigan Ohio Pennsylvania Presidency of Barack Obama

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