Biden is in, but can he reinvent himself and win?

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCan Biden's canceled cancer initiative be salvaged Biden's health care gaffe shows he's not ready for prime time The Hill's Morning Report - Trump seizes House impeachment vote to rally GOP MORE’s third run for the White House will test whether an old-school politician from another era can reinvent himself for modern times more than 30 years after he made his first bid for the White House.

Biden enters the race for the Democratic presidential nomination as the front-runner, the best-known and most beloved figure in a crowded contest that has exposed a party in search of a unifying identity.

He leads every national poll of potential Democratic primary voters, and he runs ahead of or just behind Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to call on 2020 Democrats to reject money from drug, health insurance industries The hidden connection between immigration and health care: Our long-term care crisis Harris tops Biden in California 2020 poll MORE (I-Vt.) in early state match-ups. 

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But Biden’s road to the Democratic nomination is beset by both strategic and ideological hurdles as he vies to lead a party that has moved to the left since he was last on the ballot in 2012. 

The contrasts are everywhere. 

Biden’s main rivals are building war chests with armies of small-dollar donors, while Biden’s first campaign event will be a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of a wealthy lobbyist.

While many of those he will run against are staking out positions central to the Democratic Party’s growing liberal base, Biden has spent weeks revisiting some of his more controversial, and conservative, positions in the past.

He has expressed remorse for the way he handled the Anita Hill hearings, and for a crime bill he backed in 1994 that led to disproportionately high rates of incarceration for young black men.

More recently, he acknowledged that “social norms have begun to change” after several women said he had made them uncomfortable in the course of showing affection or offering support.

Biden will pitch himself to Democratic voters desperate to end the Trump presidency as a steady, experienced hand with the best chance to beat the sitting president. 

His video announcement released Thursday morning set up the most direct challenge to President TrumpDonald John Trump#IStandWithIlhan trends after crowd at Trump rally chants 'Send her back' 'Racism' top search after Trump rally: Merriam Webster Ocasio-Cortez offers encouragement to those 'scared for our future' after Trump rally MORE of any of the candidates who have announced so far. Over a montage of Martin Luther King Jr., suffragettes and American troops landing at Normandy, Biden said Trump would be viewed as “an aberrant moment in time.”

“The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is at stake,” Biden said.

His message sounded, in part, like an echo of Trump’s own pledge to make America great again. 

“America’s coming back like we used to be,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday afternoon, hours after launching his bid.

Biden is hoping to buck history. Sitting and former vice presidents have struggled to win the presidency in modern politics, in part because voters tire of one administration. 

Since World War II, only two vice presidents — Richard Nixon, eight years after he lost the presidency, and George H.W. Bush, succeeding Ronald Reagan — have won the presidency on their own.

Three others — Walter Mondale, Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreSanders says he backs abolishing Electoral College Warren reintroduces bill mandating climate disclosures by companies Political world mourns death of Ross Perot MORE and Hubert Humphrey — have won the Democratic nomination but lost to Republicans in the general election. Dan Quayle’s campaign in 2000 did not even make it to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Biden begins his bid in a strong position, albeit not as strong as Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE did four years ago. But the front-runner’s crown sits precariously on his head, after he got a late start and staked out a more centrist role than his most significant rivals.

If Democratic voters see Biden as the course to a safe harbor, his best days may be ahead. If they opt to steer toward the future, his best day may be today.