Democrats vow complacency won't be issue as Biden builds lead

Democrats are warning their party can’t afford to be complacent as polls show presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll GOP set to release controversial Biden report Can Donald Trump maintain new momentum until this November? MORE surging ahead of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE in the polls. 

While Biden now enjoys a larger lead than the one held by Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Democratic super PAC to hit Trump in battleground states over coronavirus deaths Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE at this point of the 2016 race, the nightmares of Trump’s comeback in that cycle haunt Democratic donors. 

Some say the disappointment of that loss will keep the party on guard in 2020.

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“One of the great strengths Democrats bring to 2020 is that we’re not suffering from overconfidence,” said Robert Zimmerman, the prominent Democratic donor who is also a Democratic National Committee member. “We’ve seen this movie before.” 

Democrats acknowledge the political climate is working in Biden’s favor. 

Before the coronavirus pandemic clobbered the nation and its economy, polls suggested a tight race between Biden and Trump in a divided country. 

But over the last several weeks, amid criticism of Trump’s handling of the pandemic and his divisive statements about the demonstrations across the country for racial justice, Biden has grown a healthy lead in the polls while making relatively few public appearances. 

A New York Times poll out this week showed Biden with a 14-point lead over Trump. He won 50 percent support in the poll compared to Trump’s 36 percent. 

The survey also showed Biden with a mammoth lead with women, and particularly college-educated white women. 

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Still, Democratic strategist Joel Payne said he hears some unease in the party because there is so much time before the election. 

“It’s important that we stay engaged and stay motivated so that we peak in November and not in the summer,” Payne said.

At a virtual grass-roots fundraiser earlier this week, former President Obama warned Democrats about being complacent, taking a lesson from 2016. 

“Just because this energy is out there does not mean that it assures our victory and it does not mean that it gets channeled in a way that results in real change,” Obama said. 

“We can’t be complacent or smug or suggest that somehow it’s so obvious that this president hasn’t done a good job because, look, he won once, and it’s not like we didn’t have a good clue as to how he was going to operate the last time,” the former president added. 

He urged the viewing crowd to get involved in the Biden campaign.

“Whatever you’ve done so far is not enough,” he said. 

Privately, Democrats have grumbled about a lack of enthusiasm around Biden himself. A CNN poll out earlier this month showed that 70 percent of Trump voters are voting for the president because they back him, and 27 percent said they were voting against Biden. 

At the same time, 37 percent of Biden’s voters say they are voting for the former vice president, while 60 percent said their votes would be cast against Trump. 

“I never hear anyone saying ‘I am so pumped about Biden!’” said one Democratic strategist. “What you do hear is people saying they can’t stand Trump so they’ll vote for Biden."

Of course, that could be more than enough for Biden in 2020. 

The Times poll of six battleground states found 55 percent of those voters saying there was at least some chance they would vote for Biden. In contrast, 55 percent of registered voters in those battleground states in the Times poll said there was “really no chance” they would vote for Trump.

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“This could be the election that a candidate wins by default,” the Democratic strategist said. “But that’s not necessarily a winning campaign. It usually doesn’t work that way.”

Other strategists and operatives say Trump continues to be a motivator for Democrats. 

“Every time he speaks or tweets, it’s like steroids or meth cocktail for us to keep going,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. 

Biden’s strategy appears to be to let Trump implode. While the president has started campaigning in person even against recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Biden has largely remained in his Delaware home, relying on virtual events for organizing efforts and fundraising. 

“It’s the ‘do no harm’ strategy,” Payne said. “He needs to do no harm and present this as a referendum, a binary choice between himself and Trump and that’s what they’ve done. It’s fine for right now, but they have to be able to make the closing case.” 

Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said there is no complacency among Democrats.

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“It’s not a real thing,” Setzer said. “Getting caught off-guard by a secret Trump army definitely falls into the ‘fool me once’ category."

She said that even with Biden’s sizable lead over Trump in the string of polls, “no one I know believes it.”

The list of worries for Democrats is long, she said, including the Electoral College and voter suppression. 

Trump won the Electoral College in 2016 while losing the popular vote, and there are new fears about voting rights given the pandemic. Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in voting. 

“We have a lot of worries,” Setzer added. “But complacency doesn’t crack the top 10 for me.”