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

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

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Romney warns Trump: Don't interfere with coronavirus relief oversight 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 WarrenOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus 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.


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 SandersOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight MORE (I-Vt.) with $33.7 million. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegButtigieg launches new PAC to aid down-ballot candidates HuffPost political reporter on why Bernie fell way behind Biden Economists fear slow pace of testing will prolong recession MORE (D) and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisIs Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Politicians mourn the death of Bill Withers 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 ClintonFormer Obama adviser Plouffe predicts 'historical level' of turnout by Trump supporters Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Whoopi Goldberg presses Sanders: 'Why are you still in the race?' 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 TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves 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-CortezOvernight Health Care: Global coronavirus cases top 1M | Cities across country in danger of becoming new hotspots | Trump to recommend certain Americans wear masks | Record 6.6M file jobless claims Trump blasts Schumer over 'incorrect sound bites' on coronavirus Trump warns against 'partisan investigations' after Pelosi establishes select committee on virus response 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.