The Memo: Once the front-runner, Biden now vulnerable

The Memo: Once the front-runner, Biden now vulnerable
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Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California MORE is looking more vulnerable than ever in his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination after another indifferent debate performance and the release of mediocre financial numbers.

Biden faded into the background for long stretches of the Democratic debate in Westerville, Ohio, on Tuesday night. Other candidates mostly turned their fire on Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Following school shooting, Biden speaks out: 'We have to protect these kids' MORE (D-Mass.), reflecting the sense that she has become the front-runner in the race — the position once held by Biden.

An even bigger problem for Biden lies in the amount of cash on hand his campaign had at the end of last month, according to new figures filed with the Federal Election Commission.

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Biden’s campaign trailed in fifth in the cash on hand figure. His war chest of slightly less than $9 million was dwarfed by Warren with $25.7 million and her fellow progressive Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (I-Vt.) with $33.7 million. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field MORE (D) and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement MORE (D-Calif.) also had more money in the bank, with $23.4 million and $10.5 million, respectively.

The overall totals raised during the third quarter had already been known. They had shown Biden lagging behind Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg.

Biden’s unimpressive fundraising numbers play into an existing narrative about his campaign — that it is not exciting grassroots Democrats. 

Stories about his campaign’s spending don’t help either. A Wednesday report from the Daily Beast noted that Biden’s campaign had spent almost $1 million on private jets during the third quarter.

Democratic insiders say Biden now has real problems.

 “If you don’t have the dough, it’s hard to go,” said New York-based Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf, citing an old election adage. “The fact that the others are collecting more money, more quickly, tells you that some traditional Democratic donors are not convinced he’s the guy.”

The Hill reported earlier this month on unease in the donor community about Biden’s candidacy.

Despite the concerns raised by the latest figures, Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters after the Tuesday debate that the vice president’s team had no shortage of resources. 

“We are 100 percent confident that we have what we need to run our race,” she said, according to Time.

But Biden’s candidacy has been built on the idea that he is the most electable candidate. He is also seen in some quarters as the favored choice within the party establishment.

But other candidates in the recent past — most notably then-Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' DOJ watchdog won't let witnesses submit written feedback on investigation into Russia probe: report What are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? MORE (D-N.Y.) in 2008 — have tried and failed to win the party nomination from a similar position.

Biden’s critics on the left of the party are adamant that his weaknesses are becoming ever more plain.

“How does anybody credibly maintain that he could excite voters to come out in the droves that we need and can go toe-to-toe with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE?” said progressive activist Jonathan Tasini, who supports Sanders. “That argument is close to dead.”

Another progressive, Rebecca Katz, contrasted Biden’s performance at the debate and in fundraising with that of Sanders, who was vigorous in the debate despite having suffered a heart attack about two weeks previously.

 “It’s been about as bad a 24 hours for Biden as it has been a good 24 hours for Bernie,” Katz said.

Sanders received another boost during the debate when news broke that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez drum up support for Green New Deal public housing plan MORE (D-N.Y.) would endorse him at a rally on Saturday in Queens, N.Y.  

When Biden’s campaign announced the endorsement of former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) the following day, it was hard to ignore the contrast. 

Kerrey left the Senate in 2001 and is best known nationally for having unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in 1992, 27 years ago. When Kerrey abandoned his presidential bid in March 1992, Ocasio-Cortez was 2 years old.

Biden also faces challenges from Buttigieg and other candidates who are competing for centrist voters. 

Buttigieg had a good debate on Tuesday. He has had problems translating media attention and strong fundraising into good polling numbers but that could conceivably change if Biden continues to falter.

To be sure, the former vice president has been underestimated before. He has led some recent national polls, even as Warren has surpassed him in others. Biden’s strength among African American voters is also a formidable asset — if it endures.

But there’s no question he faces a hard fight just to prevent further erosion of his position.

 “The lagging fundraising numbers reflect how there was a veneer of invincibility that has now gone,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne.

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