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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 BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus 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 WarrenFinal debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit Biden defends his health plan from Trump attacks Progressives blast Biden plan to form panel on Supreme Court reform 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 SandersSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Trump's debate performance was too little, too late Final debate: War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit MORE (I-Vt.) with $33.7 million. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegLGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE (D) and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisSanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Watch live: Biden participates in HBCU homecoming Jennifer Aniston: 'It's not funny to vote for Kanye' 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 ClintonBon Jovi to campaign with Biden in Pennsylvania The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Biden gets late boost with key union endorsement 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 TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' 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-CortezProgressive lawmakers call for United Nations probe into DHS 'human rights abuses' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats play defense, GOP goes on attack after Biden oil comments | Energy Dept. exempts quick dishwashers from existing efficiency standards | Ocasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic Ocasio-Cortez says Biden vote can be 'tactical' effort to support marginalized communities 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.