Five hurdles facing Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms MORE’s entrance into the 2020 presidential race on Thursday ended months of speculation about his White House ambitions.

While the former vice president and Delaware senator joins a crowded and diverse Democratic primary field as a front-runner, there are still a number of questions looming over his nascent campaign, including whether his brand of centrist-minded politics will resonate with Democratic voters at a time when many candidates have called for more sweeping change.


At the same time, he’s expected to face intense scrutiny over his long legislative record and more recent allegations of inappropriately touching women.

Here are five hurdles Biden will face in his bid for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination:

1. Will Democrats nominate a moderate?

Biden is seeking the nomination of a very different party than when he first began his political career some five decades ago.

The Democratic Party has lurched to the left in recent years, as its core voters have adopted more progressive positions on health care, regulation and social justice, among other issues.

Whether Biden, an avowed moderate, can thrive amid that shift is one of the biggest question marks looming over his campaign.

He has yet to outline much of his policy platform, including whether he supports the kind of "Medicare for All" health care system touted by more liberal candidates like Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersManchin meets with Sanders, Jayapal amid spending stalemate America can end poverty among its elderly citizens Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenAmerica can end poverty among its elderly citizens Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Misguided recusal rules lock valuable leaders out of the Pentagon MORE (D-Mass).

“We haven’t yet heard from Joe Biden on these issues,” said Charles Chamberlain, the chair of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America. “We’ve heard some things from some of his surrogates and they don’t sound so good.”

But Biden is betting that voters are more interested in returning to pre-Trump norms than they are in the kind of progressive change espoused by the party’s activist base.

Still, there’s at least one sign that the former vice president may be looking to bring a more progressive perspective into his campaign.

On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that Biden had hired Symone Sanders, the former press secretary for Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid, as a senior adviser.

2. Can he overcome questions about women?

In the weeks before he announced his campaign, Biden was hit with a political crisis. Several women had come forward to accuse the former vice president of inappropriately touching them at public events.

Those allegations gave way to a debate over whether Biden, long known for his tactile style of politicking, was out of step with modern views of what kind of behavior is and isn’t appropriate.

In a video message posted online earlier this month, Biden denied any ill intent in his interactions with women, but pledged to be “more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”

Still, the allegations are also seen as a political liability for a candidate vying to take on Trump, who has faced criticism over his own treatment of women, by watering down a potentially potent line of attack against the president, especially given that support from female voters will be crucial to winning the primary.

And in the era of #MeToo, Biden has faced criticism of his treatment of Anita Hill during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearing, when Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment.


Biden, who was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of the hearing, acknowledged last month the role he played in the aggressive questioning of Hill, and expressed regret that he “couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved.”

Biden spoke with Hill recently and expressed regret "for what she endured," a spokesperson for his campaign said Thursday. But in an interview with The New York Times, Hill said she was unsatisfied with the conversation.

“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying 'I’m sorry for what happened to you,' " Hill told the Times. "I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose."

3. Will his age come into play?

If Biden wins the White House in 2020, he would be 78 years old when he takes the oath of office, making him the oldest person to serve as president.

The former vice president’s age has been a frequent topic of discussion in the lead-up to his presidential announcement, raising the question of whether a 76-year-old establishment Democrat can unite a party in which many voters are hungering for a fresh, new candidate.

The New York Times reported last month that Biden and his top advisers were weighing potential steps to reassure voters concerned about his age, including a possible pledge to serve only a single term in office and tapping a running mate early in the race.

Of course, Biden isn’t the only candidate to draw questions about his age. Sanders, another front-runner in the race, is 77, roughly 14 months older than him. 

4. Will his past votes hurt him?

Biden racked up a lengthy legislative record over the course of his 36-year career in the Senate. Now, as a presidential candidate, he’s going to have to answer for that record, including past positions no longer in step with the Democratic mainstream.

While Biden has said that he supports abortion rights, for instance, he voted multiple times in the Senate against federal funding for the procedures.

He is also likely to face scrutiny over his support for policies that accelerated the war on drugs and worsened mass incarceration — policies that Democrats have since spoke out against.

Biden has since reversed course on those policies, acknowledging in January that he hasn’t “always been right.”

"You know I've been in this fight for a long time. It goes not just to voting rights. It goes to the criminal justice system," Biden said. "I haven't always been right. I know we haven't always gotten things right, but I've always tried."

5. Can he rebuild the Obama coalition?

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Biden declared himself an “Obama-Biden Democrat.”

The label appeared to signal that Biden planned to pursue the same groups of voters that propelled him and the former president to the White House in 2008 and 2012.

But Democratic candidates of all stripes have struggled to recreate the broad and diverse coalition that powered Obama’s presidential bids. And while Biden may be hoping to assume the mantle once held by former President Obama, it’s unclear if he’ll be able to do so.

Unlike Obama, who was a fresh face on the national political scene when he first sought the White House in 2008, Biden is running as a political insider promising to return Washington and the country to the pre-Trump status quo.

What’s more, Obama isn’t expected to endorse in the primary contest. Biden told reporters on Thursday that he "asked President Obama not to endorse,” saying that "whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merit."

But whether voters view Biden as the logical successor to Obama’s brand of politics remains to be seen.