Inside Biden's preparations for first debate

Inside Biden's preparations for first debate
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Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Biden campaign rips 'Medicare for All,' calls on Dems to protect Affordable Care Act Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' MORE is shifting his focus to his campaign’s next crucial moment — the first Democratic debates, which will take place two weeks from now in Miami.
 
Biden is reading briefing books daily in preparation for the televised showdown, and working with a team of Democratic veterans including longtime allies and Obama administration alumni.
 

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“There's some prep happening most days, even when he is on the road,” said one source close to Biden. 
 
The diligence is necessary given that Biden, as the clear front-runner, will have a target on his back. Other candidates know that one way to create a stir and boost their profiles is to take him on.
 
Biden is coming off the rockiest period since his campaign began, having made a very public U-turn on his previous support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds for abortion services.
 
The former vice president has also faced some adverse comment for keeping a much lighter schedule than some of his rivals. The criticism has included insinuations that the campaign is worried about depleting the energy of the 76-year-old candidate.
 
But Biden is expected to have an even lighter schedule in the days ahead so he can continue his pre-debate work, those close to him say. 
 
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“This really is the first real benchmark since we entered the race,” said one longtime Biden World source. “You have the opportunity to really boost yourself before people check out for the summer. And we'll be able to have a sense of where the momentum is.”

Biden has a group of seasoned campaign veterans around him aiming to make sure he doesn’t get verbally sucker-punched.

Aides and advisers assisting in the process include longtime Biden adviser Ron Klain, who also helped prepare President Obama and 2016 nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGeorge Takei: US has hit a new low under Trump Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE for debates; Anita Dunn, another former Obama aide and friend of Biden; and campaign aides Kate Bedingfield, Steve Ricchetti and policy adviser Stef Feldman. 
 
Biden has led the field in almost every poll since he launched his campaign in late April. But there have been some signs that his numbers are plateauing or even sliding slightly. 
 
Supporters of candidates to Biden’s left, such as Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBullock: I would not have endorsed health care for undocumented immigrants on debate stage Harris faces pressure to define policy proposals Biden campaign rips 'Medicare for All,' calls on Dems to protect Affordable Care Act MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenHarris faces pressure to define policy proposals Harris voices support for Puerto Rico protesters: 'I stand with them' Democrats slam Puerto Rico governor over 'shameful' comments, back protesters MORE (D-Mass.) often say the former vice president’s support is soft and largely a byproduct of his association with Obama. His standing will fall as controversial parts of his past record rise to public attention and rivals become better known, they argue.
 
Warren has been picking up support recently and was among those who hit Biden most forcefully over his position on the Hyde Amendment.
 
Longtime Democratic strategist Joe Trippi argued that other candidates have every incentive to position themselves in stark relief to Biden in Miami.
 
“You’ve got 19 other candidates that have to try to somehow emerge out of that pack to challenge Biden, and it is likely that several of them will come in trying to contrast themselves with him,” Trippi said.
 
Aides to Biden acknowledge this reality.
 
“It's expected,” said one source, referring to the incoming fire he’s likely to receive. “Everyone will be trying to stand out on stage and he's the front-runner so they'll try and come after him.”  
 
The debates, to be held on June 26 and 27, will feature 20 candidates in all — 10 on each night. 
 
The lineups have yet to be decided, so there is the possibility that other major candidates, such as Warren and Sanders, could end up participating in a debate where Biden is not even on the stage.
 
Such a scenario would pose serious challenges for Biden’s rivals. And Trippi argued that, even if the people onstage with Biden come at him repeatedly, it could rebound to his advantage.
 
“If all nine other candidates take their five minutes and pivot to him, he gets nine times to come back. Guess who will seem to dominate the time in that debate? That is a potential upside for him,” Trippi said.
 
But other Democrats wondered whether Biden’s well-known propensity for verbal missteps could come back to haunt him.
 
Biden has outpaced expectations in the past. He performed well in his vice presidential debates, putting Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanEx-White House spokesman Raj Shah joins Fox Corporation as senior vice president Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Ocasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud MORE on the back foot in 2012 and avoiding patronizing Sarah Palin, as even some supporters feared he might, in 2008.
 
At the same time, his 2008 presidential campaign was self-sabotaged when in an interview he described Obama, then a senator, as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.”
And last week the furor over the Hyde Amendment flip-flop won Biden unwelcome attention.
Referring primarily to that controversy, Democratic strategist Jess McIntosh said, “Joe Biden has not been able to speak in public for weeks without putting himself into a situation that he would rather not be in. It may not be up to the other candidates at all” to attack him.
McIntosh also suggested that the most aggressive swipes at Biden may come from underperforming candidates rather than his most prominent rivals, since the former have less to lose. 
“I would expect some of the candidates that are not really taking off to take a harder swing,” she said.
 
So far, in Biden's camp, the process has been less about mock debates and more about ensuring the former vice president is well-versed on the issues. 
 
“Ultimately his goal is to be prepared. He likes to be prepared. Deep down he's a big policy guy,” another Biden confidant said. 
 
Whether that will be enough to carry the day in Miami remains to be seen.