Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE is facing questions over whether his full embrace of former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBill Maher, Isiah Thomas score over the NFL's playing of 'Black national anthem' Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE, which has helped him become the Democratic front-runner for the White House, is enough to paper over his own shortcomings as a candidate.
Biden has pointed to his closeness with Obama to withstand attacks against his record on civil rights and has retained a lead in polls after a shaky first debate performance largely because of support from black voters.
A Quinnipiac University Poll survey released Monday found Biden with 53 percent support nationally among polled black voters. No other candidate is polling in double digits.
“If Barack Obama were running in this primary, he’d be the nominee, he’s still that popular, and Joe Biden wrapping his arms around Obama is one of the reasons whey Biden outpolls everyone else 3- or 4-to-1 among African Americans,” said Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with any of the candidates. “They trust the president and by extension they trust his confidence in the vice president, who stood by his side.”
But Biden is facing scrutiny of his record separate from Obama, such as his past support for a crime bill and his ties to the credit card industry. And some Democrats note that Biden’s nostalgic campaign risks highlighting one of the most stinging criticisms against him — that he is a candidate from the past.
Biden has recently signaled that he’ll look to forge his own path, an indication that he’s worried that a reliance on the popular former president may cut against the rationale for his own candidacy. Speaking at an NAACP event last week, Biden said he would not use Obama as a “crutch” for his own campaign.
“The fact of the matter is, this is not a continuation of our administration,” he added. “What it is, is there are new problems we face today that are different from the ones we faced at the time. But the fact of the matter is he’s a close friend, I’m very proud to have served with him.”
Democratic strategists say those remarks are an acknowledgement that Obama cannot be a cure-all for Biden’s campaign.
“The reason that you’re seeing Biden add these caveats is because Obama can be a validator of the campaign, but not the sole foundation of it, which is why you're now also seeing Biden starting to roll out his own unique positions, policy plans that are different than the Obama administration,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.
Biden’s critics on the left argue that he’d be going nowhere in this primary if it weren’t for the goodwill he earned under Obama.
They expect that will evaporate at some point, as the activist base draws attention to Biden’s decades-long record to cast him as out of touch with where the party stands today.
“Biden’s only path to the nomination was a decision by Obama to go all-out for him by energizing the broad base of Democrats who still love Obama,” said Jonathan Tasini, a progressive writer. “Once Obama made clear that wouldn’t happen, Biden had to embrace him on his own, because without that connection, Biden is like political cotton candy — giving a quick little sugar high which wears off with the inevitable crash coming, whether soon or pretty much in early 2020.”
And some Democrats are worried that a campaign run on nostalgia for the prior Democratic administration is the wrong message at a time when the party is grappling with whether a key part of Obama’s legacy might be that he alienated the white working class voters who propelled President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE to victory.
“Biden’s relationship to Obama may help him with black voters but can hurt him with the white working class men that comprise a large part of his rationale for running,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party. “Many of those voters didn’t only vote for Trump as a repudiation of Obama but they’ve also been leaving the Democratic Party for over a decade — which is why other candidates who can grow the party with new voters still has appeal.”
McMahon said Biden’s ties to Obama have helped him stay anchored as the pragmatic centrist in a race that has seen many of the candidates rushing to the left and embracing positions they may have to walk back in the general election.
“Biden is running the campaign that Biden needs to run, and it may not be ultimately successful if the party has moved too far away from him,” he said. “But he’s running a general election campaign in a primary, which if it doesn’t kill him will make him stronger. He’s running the only campaign he can run and playing the cards he’s dealt, and other than his first debate performance he’s doing it pretty damn well.”