The Memo: Huge Democratic field boosts Biden

Democratic front-runner Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE has an unusual advantage in the 2020 race: the sheer size of the field.

The former vice president has leapt out to a wider lead than many pundits expected since launching his bid in late April.


On Tuesday afternoon, he had about 35 percent support nationally according to the RealClearPolitics polling average — a roughly 2-to-1 advantage over his nearest challenger, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Bipartisan infrastructure win shows Democrats must continue working across the aisle 'The land is us' — Tribal activist turns from Keystone XL to Line 3 MORE (I-Vt.).

Beyond that, 22 other candidates are vying for every vote. The basic math helps Biden, party insiders say.

“I think it’s a very big advantage, beginning in Iowa where you have to get 15 percent [of caucusgoers] to qualify for delegates,” said veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “If you are able to have solid support of about one-third of the vote, it’s very hard to stop a front-runner.”

Devine, who worked for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign but is not affiliated with any candidate this cycle, contrasted Biden’s position as a front-runner against that of strong favorite — and eventual nominee — Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE four years ago.

“If you’re the front-runner and there is only one serious alternative, which is what happened in 2016, you can have a 40- or 50-point lead and lose it,” Devine said. “But if you have a lot of candidates and you have somebody with a significant base of support that doesn’t erode … it’s very hard to beat a candidate like that.”

Another unaligned Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, argued that the big field aids Biden in part because he is the best-known contender: “The reality is that, when you flood people with this many choices of candidates who are not well-known, it is going to naturally help the front-runner because they can’t settle on one candidate.”

It’s not just the number of candidates that puts a wind at Biden’s back. Many of his most serious rivals are competing with each other for specific swaths of voters.

Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.), for example, are both favorites of progressives. There is some evidence that recent progress in polls for Warren is coming at Sanders’s expense. The two are even competing for approval from other leading lights of the left. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez: 'More than enough' votes to prevent infrastructure from passing without reconciliation bill Manchin: 'I can't really guarantee anybody' reconciliation package will pass Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE (D-N.Y.) has joined Sanders in pushing legislation aimed at curbing the power of credit card companies, but she has also appeared in short videos, posted to Twitter, with Warren.

Democratic voters who are eager to see a female nominee have both Warren and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE (D-Calif.) among the top tier of candidates, as well as other possibilities such as Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharManchin 'can't imagine' supporting change to filibuster for voting rights Hillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation MORE (D-Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandTreat broadband as infrastructure and we have a chance to get it right House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors To make energy green, remove red tape MORE (D-N.Y.).

The splits and intraparty rivalries can cut across racial and economic lines, too. The presence of two major black candidates, Harris and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerWomen urge tech giants to innovate on office return Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (D-N.J.), could prevent African American support coalescing behind either one. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegSunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate Sunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Chasten Buttigieg: DC 'almost unaffordable' MORE (D), both lean heavily on support from upscale white voters.

By contrast, Biden’s niche — relatively moderate, purportedly electable, popular with older voters — is not particularly crowded.

Klobuchar perhaps comes closest to a Biden-like appeal, but she is running at about 2 percent support nationally, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

Still, while few dispute that the large field helps Biden, some argue he should enjoy it while it lasts — which may not be for long.


Several sources pointed, unprompted, to the release of fundraising totals for the second quarter, which ends June 30, as a potential watershed moment, demonstrating which candidates can mount a serious challenge and which cannot.

The first debates, set for June 26 and 27 in Miami, may give some long-shot candidates a chance to break out, but they could also spell doom for those who don’t make an impact.

The huge field could thin out soon enough.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is voices from the left of the party who are forcefully urging people not to get carried away about Biden’s lead 250 days before the Iowa caucuses.

“In a field like this, with a clear, early front-runner — not to mention one who is so out of step with so much of the Democratic base — it is inevitable that the field is eventually going to winnow down,” said progressive strategist Rebecca Katz, the founder of New Deal Strategies.

“The substantial anti-Biden vote will start coalescing around a few leading challengers,” Katz added. Furthermore, she said, “even in a crowded field, candidates still rise.”

To be sure, there is history of strong early front-runners coming up short in multi-candidate fields. The most famous recent example might be Clinton’s defeat by then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHave our enemies found a way to defeat the United States? Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Biden's Cuba problem: Obama made a bet and lost MORE (D-Ill.) in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

Still, that was a total field of just eight serious candidates, and it had become clear even by the time of the Iowa caucuses that only three — Obama, Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) — had a serious chance of victory.

(Biden ran that year and exited immediately after getting negligible support — about 1 percent — in Iowa.)

An inexact parallel for Biden’s situation can be seen in President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE’s victory in the 2016 Republican primaries. In that instance, Trump blasted out to an early lead in a 17-person field. By the time the contest had boiled down to a handful of contenders, Trump had an impregnable lead.

Right now, Trump may be unintentionally helping Biden copper-fasten his front-runner status by attacking him. Trump repeatedly ripped the former vice president during a trip to Japan in recent days.

During a press conference with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Trump said, “Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnKim's sister rips US-South Korea drills Koreas in talks over possible summit: report The Koreas are talking again — Moon is for real, but what about Kim? MORE made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.”

Biden’s campaign hit back on Tuesday, with deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield issuing a statement calling Trump’s remarks “beneath the dignity of the office” and blasting him for siding “repeatedly with a murderous dictator against a fellow American and former Vice President.”

To Biden’s supporters, Trump’s attitude bespeaks fear.

And they say that, no matter how big or small the primary field, it is a well-founded fear on the president’s part.

“There are pluses and minuses,” to the size of the field, said Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and a Biden supporter. “But [Biden] is head and shoulders, in terms of support, above everybody in the race.

“Even as it winnows down, he will become even stronger.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.