Commanding Biden lead puts pressure on Democrats to endorse

Commanding Biden lead puts pressure on Democrats to endorse

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE’s commanding lead in the polls is putting pressure on Democratic lawmakers to endorse him, even though the first primary contest is eight months away.

Sen. Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion MORE (D-Del.), one of Biden’s surrogates on Capitol Hill, has touched base with colleagues about endorsing Biden, who is certain to come under attack from more liberal rivals in the run-up to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Overnight Health Care: Biden infuriates abortion-rights groups with stance on Hyde Amendment | Trump tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research | Democrats plan event to scrutinize Trump's mental health MORE (D-Pa.), who has also endorsed Biden, is arguing that the former Delaware senator can win the pivotal battleground of neighboring Pennsylvania, highlighting what many Democrats see as his greatest asset: electability.

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But many lawmakers are holding back, especially in the Senate, where Democrats are worried about offending colleagues who are also seeking the party’s nomination. Right now there are seven senators competing with Biden for the nomination, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate Poll: Six Dems lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Warren introduces universal child care legislation MORE (D-Mass.).

The Democratic primary in 2020 is playing out much differently than it did in 2016, when then-frontrunner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Trump jokes he'd get 'electric chair' if he deleted even one 'love note' email to Melania MORE locked up early support, gaining an advantage among superdelegates that made it much tougher for rival Sanders to win the nomination.

Superdelegates, who are made up of Democratic Party officials and officeholders, will wield much less power next year than they did in the competitive primaries of 2008 and 2016. As a result of reforms adopted in August, superdelegates will not participate in the first round of voting for the nominee at the 2020 convention in Milwaukee. Their votes will come into play only if the first ballot does not yield a nominee.

“I’m just asking my colleagues, respectfully, what their perspective is on the presidential primary,” said Coons, who said he is focusing on senators who don’t appear to be leaning toward any White House hopefuls yet.

“Given how many of our colleagues are candidates, I’m not twisting any arms. I’m not making a hard sell but I’m exploring with colleagues who clearly are not committed to any particular candidate,” he said.

Casey said he’ll reach out to colleagues “at some point” but noted “it’s pretty early.”

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But the senior senator from Pennsylvania is already making the argument that Biden is well positioned to win his state and its 20 electoral votes, a must for Democrats if they are to defeat President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE.

“Importantly, I think he can carry Pennsylvania,” Casey said, highlighting one of Biden’s biggest selling points with fellow Democrats.

Casey said he’s not sure some of Biden’s rivals can beat Trump in the Keystone State. “I’m not sure how many I would put on the list I’m certain can win,” he said.

Biden has increased his lead over Sanders, who often places second in national polls, since announcing his candidacy in mid-April, defying predictions that he might peak on the first day of his campaign.

Monmouth University and Morning Consult polls published around the time Biden announced his third White House bid showed him leading the Democratic field by high single digits. More than a month later, his average polling lead is 18 points.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Prosecutors drop charges over Flint water crisis | US blames Iran for attack on oil tankers | Air Force diverted M for chemical cleanup costs | Criminal cases referred by Interior at near 25-year low MORE (D-Del.), one of four senators endorsing Biden, says he puts “a lot” of stock in the early numbers.  

“I’ve seen some impressive polling data for a while and the numbers are actually getting better not worse, so it’s encouraging,” he said. 

Biden’s strength in the polls is all the more impressive because he had to weather a scandal right out of the gate when several women, including Lucy Flores, a former candidate for lieutenant governor in Nevada, accused him of inappropriate touching and invading their personal space at a public event years ago. 

Carper said electability is an overriding concern for many Democrats right now and sees Biden as someone who can bring the party together and beat Trump.

“There’s a hunger among Democrats to win. There’s a hunger for someone who can unite our party and unite our country. And there’s a hunger for someone who can help restore our standing in the world,” he said.

Biden’s gathering strength and the desire by some to unify the party as soon as possible is putting pressure on other Democrats to consider endorsing the front-runner.

In addition to Coons, Casey and Carper, Sen. Doug Jones (D), a centrist from Alabama, has also announced his support, giving Biden more Senate endorsements than any other Democratic candidate.

Biden’s campaign scored a coup this past week when it announced that Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondLawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach Democrats keep censure for Trump on the table MORE (D-La.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, will serve as its national co-chairman.

That was a blow to Harris and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren introduces universal child care legislation Warren introduces universal child care legislation Booker responds to Trump's mass deportation threat: 'This is not who we are' MORE (D-N.J.) -- both members of the black caucus who are also running for the nomination.

Richmond told The New York Times that he picked Biden “because I thought he was the best person to take on President Trump and beat him.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions Senators demand Trump explain decision to deploy troops amid Iran tensions MORE (Ill.), who was the first Senate Democrat to endorse then Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump takes credit for passing veterans bill that passed under Obama Orlando Sentinel declines to endorse Trump in 2020 Progressive activist: Democratic nominee will 'need to ride a little bit to the center' MORE ahead of the 2008 presidential election, said colleagues may be feeling some pressure to announce their support as early as possible if It seems increasingly likely that Biden will win the nomination.

“It’s possible. I was on the other side with Obama [in 2007] and talked to a lot of members about getting on the train before it leaves the station,” he said, recalling that for months he was the only senator willing to endorse the party’s eventual nominee.

Durbin, however, said he’s staying neutral for the time being.

Lawmakers who make early endorsements are more likely to receive strong consideration for Cabinet positions.

Trump rewarded former Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump to kick off bid for second term in Florida The Hill's Morning Report - Trump to kick off bid for second term in Florida Sarah Sanders to leave White House MORE (R-Ala.), who for months was the only senator to endorse his candidacy, by naming him attorney general, although the relationship quickly soured once he was in office.

Former Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who sided with Obama when he was battling Clinton for superdelegates in 2008, was later named as secretary of the Interior Department.

Many Democratic senators, however, say they want to see how the debates and early primary contests in Iowa and New Hampshire play out before making a public endorsement.

Several who spoke on condition of anonymity with The Hill said they were worried about offending their other colleagues in the race, who might be less inclined to work with them if they back a rival.

“I’m just going to follow it and wait and see,” said one Democratic senator. “I think we’re going to have a couple of primaries to get a feeling where this thing is going to land.”

“When you have a candidate who’s so far in front like that, that’s name ID. He was the vice president for so long. That always happens in races, whether it’s a Senate race or a House race,” the lawmaker added, questioning whether Biden’s lead will be sustainable into the early part of 2020.

“If you’re in Senate working every day to try to get things passed and deal with everybody, it’s a disaster to take sides in a presidential race. It hurts your ability to keep lines of communication open and keep things moving,” the senator added.

A second Democratic senator also raised doubts about Biden’s ability to keep his big lead going.

“I am not persuaded that his polling lead is not written in the wind,” the lawmaker said. 

The senator also expressed misgivings about how an endorsement would be received by Senate colleagues.

“I’m not going to screw one of my colleagues,” the lawmaker added.