The Memo: Huge Democratic field boosts Biden

Democratic front-runner Joe BidenJoe BidenZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Romney: Republicans don't criticize Trump because they fear it will help Warren 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 SandersWarren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' Warren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Ocasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make 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 ClintonClinton trolls Trump with mock letter from JFK to Khrushchev Trump-Graham relationship tested by week of public sparring Sunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision 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 Ann WarrenZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Warren, Yang fight over automation divides experts Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' 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 says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make Ocasio-Cortez: Sanders' heart attack was a 'gut check' moment Ocasio-Cortez tweets endorsement of Sanders 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 Devi HarrisWarren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Kamala Harris reacts to supporter who got tattoo of her handwriting Even with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency MORE (D-Calif.) among the top tier of candidates, as well as other possibilities such as Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDeVos calls Democratic presidential hopeful's education plans 'crazy' Senate Democrats want Warren to talk costs on 'Medicare for All' Biden struggles to reverse fall MORE (D-Minn.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs Senate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick 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 Anthony BookerWarren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Gabbard hits back at 'queen of warmongers' Clinton The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden camp faces new challenges 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 ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSunday shows — Mulvaney seeks to tamp down firestorm over quid pro quo comments, Doral decision Buttigieg says he wasn't comfortable with Clinton attack on Gabbard Buttigieg: Trump undermining US credibility 'is going to cost us for years and years' 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 ObamaCombatting fake news on social media will take a village Is Trudeau on the verge of a shocking reversal of fortune? Even with likely Trump impeachment, Democrats face uphill climb to win presidency 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 John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' 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 UnUS proposed helping North Korea build tourist area amid nuclear talks: report Kim poses for photos on white horse on sacred mountain, plans 'great operation' Beware the 34th month of Trump's presidency 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.