Team Biden projects confidence post-debate

Joe BidenJoe BidenStopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest Trump slams Biden staff for donating bail money to protesters At least 4,400 people arrested in connection with protests: report MORE’s team is breathing a sigh of relief, believing the former vice president held his ground amid an onslaught of attacks from a half-dozen rivals seeking to cut him down at the Democratic presidential debates in Detroit this week.

To be sure, Biden had several shaky moments, and the ferocious attacks against the 76-year-old’s record on civil rights, immigration and health care portends the fights ahead. Biden’s rivals view him as a rickety front-runner who will at some point collapse under pressure.

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But that hasn’t happened yet, and Team Biden feels the former vice president weathered a major test this week, steadying his candidacy after a poor first debate performance raised questions about whether he could rise to the challenge.

Biden is dominating the field with older voters and black Democrats, two constituencies critical to the primary and general election.

The big field behind Biden is splitting up support, and a single challenger has yet to break out, leaving Team Biden feeling, if not comfortable, content at this stage of the race.

“They think they had a really good night,” one top Democratic donor said of Biden’s senior aides. “Biden did what he needed to. He took a lot of blows and he punched back.”

Biden toured Detroit for several campaign events and spoke to reporters in the street on Thursday, projecting confidence and expressing surprise at what he characterized as attacks on President Obama’s record.

Biden has tied himself closely to Obama, and the media appearance on Friday seemed designed to remind voters once again of that link while putting some opponents on defense.

He predicted that he’d trounce President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE in key battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“This is a marathon and I feel good,” Biden said. “I think we passed the quarter mark and I feel good.”

Biden’s ease in public on Thursday was in contrast to his occasional struggles on the debate stage in getting his sentences out.

“His age betrayed him last night,” said Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist.

Biden’s backers acknowledge that his performance was choppy at times, but they say his fumbling — such as an awkward closing remark in which he gave the wrong numbers for supporters to text — were driven more by his aides seeking to keep him tightly scripted.

Allies say that Biden, even if he’s prone to gaffes during moments of loquaciousness, is far more resonant when he’s speaking from the heart.

“You could tell that every stuttering moment or flubbed line came when he was thinking about the canned lines one of his advisers fed him,” said one Democratic strategist who supports Biden. “The version of Biden that wins and becomes the nominee is the one who shoots from the hip.”

Supporters noted that some of his best moments from Wednesday’s debate came when he reacted instinctively, pointing to his dismissal of Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioScience says: 'Open the schools' De Blasio's daughter arrested in NYC protest: reports 'Mr. President, the nation needs to hear from you' MORE’s future influence in the Democratic Party after the New York City mayor spent a large portion of the night attacking him.

“We hope you’re a part of it,” Biden said.

Biden’s allies are taking comfort in his polling strength, which rebounded after a modest dip following the first debates. They believe nothing happened over the course of the two nights in Detroit to fundamentally alter the shape of the race, and that if anything, Biden might be in line for a bump.

A longtime Biden aide declared that “nothing changes” after the debate. “Nothing.” 

Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThis week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic City leaders, Democratic lawmakers urge Trump to tamp down rhetoric as protests rage across US Sunday shows - George Floyd's death, protests bump COVID-19 from headlines MORE (D-N.J.) landed the most blows against Biden, blaming him for being the architect of racist institutional systems he said had held back black people. But Booker is polling in the low single digits, and it will take a surprising surge of support to propel him into the top tier.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Vogue's Anna Wintour urges Biden to pick woman of color for VP Biden should name a 'team of colleagues' MORE (D-Calif.) has deflated some since catapulting into contention, and she may have had the worst debate performance of all the top contenders.

The biggest challenge for Biden right now may be coming from the left, as Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Vogue's Anna Wintour urges Biden to pick woman of color for VP Biden should name a 'team of colleagues' MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersJudd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Biden's 'allies' gearing up to sink his campaign Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support MORE (I-Vt.) swatted away a fierce round of attacks from their centrist rivals on a separate debate stage Tuesday night.

Liberals smell blood in the water with Biden and are eager to see one of their own take him down.

“Joe Biden is failing and his inability to take responsibility for his past actions puts him out of step with where the party is today,” said Neil Sroka, a strategist for the progressive group Democracy for America. “Hands down, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren won the debate series in Detroit. Their growth and strength of support is more the story for me than the degree to which Biden’s is hanging on to his status as a weakened front-runner.”

Several Democrats reached by The Hill mentioned Warren as a real potential threat to him down the stretch.

And there are some fears among Biden’s supporters that the sustained attacks against him will at some point wear him down.

But there are no signs yet that anyone is making a serious run at Biden. It is hard to see a 3-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders if liberals are splitting their support, as they are now. Those dynamics have helped Biden maintain a healthy lead over the field and weather the rocky days in between the first two debates.

There was relief among Biden’s supporters that the centrist candidates defended him and his policies, and hope that when some of those candidates drop out, they’ll become effective surrogates for the Biden campaign.

“[Biden] didn't put everyone else out of the game, but he steadied the ship after the first debate,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “Shows he was ready to fight and mix it up. So I think it remains to be seen what that translates into the polls but he definitely steadied himself and now needs to keep having good performances out on the trail and in his interviews."