Campaign

Biden rides high, but faces angst-filled party

Joe Biden 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 Harris (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 Clinton 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 Bloomberg and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (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 Yang, 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 Obama, 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 Trump,” 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.”

 

 

Tags 2020 conventions 2020 Democratic convention Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andrew Yang Bernie Sanders Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Michael Bloomberg Michelle Obama

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