Biden struggles to reverse fall
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is hitting major bumps at a critical moment in the 2020 campaign.
A little more than three months before the Iowa caucuses, the former vice president is widely seen as having lost his front-runner position to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
He’s an underdog in Iowa, is coming off another forgettable debate performance and has just $9 million in cash on hand.
“It’s increasingly clear he’s not up to the job of running a campaign,” one Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any of the presidential campaigns said in criticizing Biden’s operation.
Other Democrats say Biden has always been a weak candidate boosted by strong name recognition and his years as former President Obama’s vice president. They argue his centrist politics and elder-statesman status are a difficult fit with a primary electorate that is leaning progressive.
“For a very long time, he’s been the superficial front-runner,” said Democratic strategist Adam Parkhomenko, who served as an aide on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “A lot of his policies are not progressive enough. This isn’t 1998 and this isn’t 2008. He’s spent too much time focused on thinking he has to run mainstream to be elected.”
Biden still has strong support among African American voters, who could still be his political salvation.
While he is behind Warren in polls in New Hampshire and Iowa, he has a healthy lead in South Carolina.
But it’s hardly clear that Biden will retain that edge, and other centrist candidates believe they now have a shot of overtaking him. South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in particular, had a strong debate performance on Tuesday and is raising more money than Biden. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) supporters also hope she can make a late charge. Both candidates raised more than $1 million the day after the debate.
The unaffiliated Democratic strategist said the current status of Biden’s campaign should be sending alarm bells throughout the former vice president’s headquarters.
“People are seeing an array of candidates. There are folks who are ready to pick up the anti-Elizabeth Warren mantle like Pete Buttigieg and if they don’t reverse course soon, it’s going to be all downhill from here. The question is how steep is the decline?” the strategist said.
Parkhomenko said Democrats are worried Biden is not pushing back on Trump as his campaign advertised.
“He needs to own every one of these moments and fight back. He needs to do that consistently. His response to Trump has been slow and inconsistent. That inconsistency has given people pause and concern. … You see the numbers eroding,” he said.
A spokesman for the former vice president declined to comment.
Biden has consistently cast himself as the candidate best positioned to defeat Trump in 2020, and electability has always been at the center of his message.
Yet, as Trump and his allies ripped Biden over his son’s business in Ukraine, Biden aides realized their candidate was not punching back hard enough.
They shifted last week, showing off a more aggressive Biden, who last week called for Trump’s impeachment.
They’ve also sought to use the story to their advantage, arguing that the Trump attacks illustrate the president’s fear of facing Biden in November.
Biden aides use a drum emoji on social media to bolster their candidate’s statement that he’ll beat Trump “like a drum.”
Biden, during a campaign stop in Ohio this week, responded to Trump’s taunts by telling him to “release your tax returns or shut up.”
But, to some, the attacks have come too late and with less intensity than they had anticipated.
“He missed some real opportunities to own the whole narrative,” another Democratic strategist said. “Their response seems a little off at times.”
Separately, donors have complained that Biden isn’t doing the kind of outreach he should be doing to cultivate relationships with longtime check-writers. Some donors and fundraisers have complained privately that they heard from Biden at the outset of the campaign and then there was no follow up from him.
Other donors to the campaign say they are worried about Biden’s strategy when it comes to Iowa and New Hampshire.
“I don’t know how smart it is to have everything riding on South Carolina,” one said.
“If Warren does well in both states, she’ll easily have the momentum,” the donor added, referring to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Biden’s hiccups have created openings for Buttigieg and Klobuchar — and maybe even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has also discussed jumping into the race in case Biden’s support declines.
“The race to replace Trump will eventually come down to one progressive, Warren or Sanders and one moderate. Biden or Buttigieg,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon. “Mayor Pete is within striking distance of Biden in Iowa and the former vice president’s campaign could unravel quickly if he falters there.”
Bannon said Buttigieg “distinguished himself in the last debate by offering a more compelling criticism of ‘Medicare for All’ than Biden did,” and more errors like this could cost him the nomination.
“Joe Biden is cruising to a bruising unless he can reverse the free fall he’s been in since he announced back in the spring,” he said.
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