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 BidenVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected BuzzFeed News finds Biden's private Venmo account Kid reporter who interviewed Obama dies at 23 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 WarrenSanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Warren says Republican Party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' 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 SandersSanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Former OMB pick Neera Tanden to serve as senior adviser to Biden Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy MORE (I-Vt.) with $33.7 million. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegInfrastructure deal imperiled by differences on financing Biden says he and GOP both 'sincere about' seeking infrastructure compromise The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Colonial pays hackers as service is restored MORE (D) and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHere's why Joe Biden polls well, but Kamala Harris does not Immigration experts say GOP senators questioned DHS secretary with misleading chart Carper urges Biden to nominate ambassadors amid influx at border 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 ClintonDemocrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit More than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020, setting record 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 TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers 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-CortezSanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Meghan McCain: Greene 'behaving like an animal' Deleted video shows Greene taunting Ocasio-Cortez's office in 2019 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.