Biden rides high, but faces angst-filled party

Joe BidenJoe BidenWoman accused of trying to sell Pelosi laptop to Russians arrested Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Trump moves to lift coronavirus travel restrictions on Europe, Brazil MORE will accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination this week at a made-for-2020 virtual convention, underscoring the volatile political landscape he must navigate to fulfill Democratic dreams of ending the Trump presidency.

Biden will enter the convention riding high, with a party largely united behind him, despite the lukewarm-at-best feelings of progressives.

Biden has opened up a substantial lead in national polls and he has smaller, but clear advantages in the key battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Arizona.


Days after picking Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSenate majority offers Biden new avenues on Trump environmental rollbacks Empire State Building lights on eve of Biden inauguration to honor COVID-19 victims READ: Harris letter resigning from Senate ahead of inauguration MORE (D-Calif.) to be his running mate, Biden will seek to build on his momentum this week at a four-day event that will look unlike any previous convention held by either party.

Biden is seeking to convince voters that he’s a steady hand at an uncertain time and the leader the country needs to turn to after the unprecedented roller coaster nature of the Trump administration.

More pointedly, he wants to make the case that the country needs new, more settled leadership to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn and racial turmoil.

While Biden is a favorite in August, Democrats are hyperactively aware that Biden’s lead could dissipate down the stretch, as it did for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJuan Williams: The real 'Deep State' is pro-Trump Rep. John Katko: Why I became the first Republican lawmaker to support impeachment Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? MORE in 2016. Privately, Democrats are cataloguing all the ways things could go wrong between now and Nov. 3.

“I hate to get optimistic because I’ve been there before — I didn’t think Trump could win in 2016,” said former Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who worked with Biden for 16 years in the Senate. “Last time, I know a lot of Democrats were just tired of the Clintons. Some even voted for Trump, but they won’t this time. I even have some Republican friends who aren’t sticking with Trump.”

There is enormous pressure on Biden not to falter in the final 78 days. He’ll have to withstand three debates with Trump and his own propensity for untimely gaffes.


Democrats picked Biden in the primary because they viewed him as the most electable candidate. Starting with the convention, they’re looking for evidence down the stretch they were right.

“This is it, the opening gate for the real start of the race,” said DeConcini. “Sure, there’s pressure, and Biden knows that. But when you seek this office, you welcome that pressure.”

The convention will not be the spectacle that it has been in the past, when thousands of lawmakers, political operatives and reporters would descend on the site for a week of speeches, organizing events and parties.

There will be only scattered attendees on the ground in Milwaukee because of the coronavirus. Biden and Harris will give their acceptance speeches from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del.

Strategists are not expecting Biden to receive a meaningful post-convention bump in the polls.

“Some earned media coming out of the convention would be helpful, but no one is getting an appreciable convention bump this year in my view,” said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic operative in Michigan. “The virtual convention is likely to be a dud for both parties.”

At the convention, Democrats plan to showcase their biggest stars and next generation talent, though such figures will share a spotlight with more centrist figures such as ex-New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergBiden selects Gina Raimondo for Commerce chief: reports 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics NFL, politics dominate 2020 ratings MORE and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.

Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden pushing to cancel Keystone XL pipeline as soon as he takes office: reports Biden tax-hike proposals face bumpy road ahead Senate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster MORE (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: Facebook, Zuckerberg 'bear partial responsibility' for insurrection Belfast's Troubles echo in today's Washington AOC's Ministry of Truth MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP What to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing Biden selects Gensler for SEC chair, Rohit Chopra to lead CFPB MORE (D-Mass.) are among the progressives with starring roles.

Ocasio-Cortez in particular is seen as a future star of the party, and some liberals want to see a bigger spotlight on figures they see as the future of the party such as former presidential candidate Andrew YangAndrew YangAndrew Yang sparks Twitter uproar with pro-bodega video Yang announces run for New York City mayor Yang files to open campaign account for NYC mayor MORE, rather than figures from past political generations with much more centrist political records such as former President Clinton, or Bloomberg, who was a Republican.

Biden won the Democratic nomination with the help of Black voters who remembered his years serving former President Obama, and viewers of the convention will get constant reminders of those times.

Former President Obama is set to speak on Wednesday, while former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaObama honors MLK Day: 'He never gave in to violence, never waved a traitorous flag' Should there be a 'Secretary of Thought'? Obamas to attend Biden inauguration MORE, perhaps the most popular political figure in the country, will speak Monday. Michelle Obama’s convention speech in 2016 was a showstopper, and anticipation will be high to see if she can eclipse that effort this year.

While there are obvious tensions in the party between progressives and moderates, Democrats say they also see people coming together.


“I see a unity of purpose, but that purpose goes beyond getting rid of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGiuliani used provisional ballot to vote in 2020 election, same method he disparaged in fighting to overturn results Trump gets lowest job approval rating in final days as president Fox News' DC managing editor Bill Sammon to retire MORE,” said Jeri Shepherd, a Democratic National Committee member from Colorado who supported Sanders in the primary.

“People are in the streets demanding justice … and working their butts off but still not being able to survive. … To the extent the Biden-Harris team is committed to working toward solutions to long-standing problems, people will unite to move our country and planet in a better direction,” Shepherd said.

While Biden enters the convention with a lead, there are factors keeping Democrats up at night.

They view the political landscape as volatile and believe any number of unforeseen events could rock the election in the final months, including potential foreign meddling.

“It’s going to be a battle,” said Mike Erlandson, a former chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. “I think anybody that puts a lot of credence in national polls didn’t learn anything from 2016.”

There is fury over what Democrats view as an effort by Trump to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service ahead of an expected surge in mailed ballots due to the coronavirus.


And several Democrats said they’re worried the party isn’t taking the violent aspects of the protests seriously enough, believing that Trump’s best path back into contention revolves around him being seen as the candidate who is serious about law and order.

But Democrats are largely happy with where Biden stands as he begins the final sprint to Election Day, even as they brace for a flurry of attacks from Trump.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris control their own destiny,” said Mark Nevins, a veteran Democratic campaigns operative in Philadelphia. “If they can run a clean campaign, they will win this election. The Trump campaign needs them to make a mistake and they’ll be trying to force those. I fully expect Trump to become more outrageous with his attacks to try to throw them off their game the more desperate he becomes.”