It’s Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential nomination to lose

Greg Nash

We may be several months from the first ballots being cast for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, but former Vice President Joe Biden is running away with the race. Yes, anything conceivably could happen between now and when the Democrats officially select their nominee next summer, but Biden is firmly entrenched in the catbird seat and will likely stay there barring a major turn of events.

According to the most recent RealClearPolitics average of national surveys, Biden is leading the 20-plus candidate field by more than 16 points. Biden is also leading in the Democrats’ first four February 2020 nominating contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Now, contrarians, on both the left and the right, have and will continue to argue a litany of reasons why Biden won’t win the nomination. They claim that not only is Biden a white male, but he’s also too old to be the nominee. They contend that history is against Biden given that this is his third quest for the Democrats’ highest nomination. They assert Biden is gaffe-prone and the energy and future of the party lies with the progressive wing, not with a swamp creature with a 36-year-long Senate career of appeasement to corporate interests. Or they will say that Biden is simply just the beneficiary of high name identification. They also insist it is way too early to make such a proclamation because there are still 12 sanctioned primary debates on the calendar. All of these rebuttals are wishful thinking.

Biden is the undisputed Democratic frontrunner, period.

One could even argue that Biden is in a stronger position than President Trump was late in 2015; Trump himself has suggested as much. As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo rightly points out, “[w]e’re past the point where Biden’s strength can be chalked up to name recognition.” Let’s remember, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “has near universal name recognition too,” and his poll numbers are steadily dropping. Yes, Biden certainly faces some perils in his quest to be the blue team’s standard barrier, but his position is a lot stronger than most seasoned political observers realize.

It probably won’t register, but what should also irritate the other candidates vying for the nomination is that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has even suggested that the Democratic presidential primary may already be over. 

Biden’s perch of strength within the field derives from three things; first is the sheer size of the 2020 Democratic presidential field, the largest in modern history. There are just so many options in the current field, that it could end up paralyzing primary voters and force them to go with the names with which they are most familiar and trust. As the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar notes, forget 2016 and Bernie versus Hillary, this situation “does more to ‘rig’ the system against the underdogs,” because “[t]here’s only so much attention to go around, and the two brand-name candidates (Sanders and Joe Biden) will be sucking up a disproportionate share of media oxygen.” Further, it allows Biden “the luxury to make his campaign about taking on Trump in a way that his lower-profile opponents can’t afford.”

Second, and arguably most important, is “Biden’s not so secret weapon: Barack Obama.” It is true that if Biden had not served as former President Barack Obama’s number two he would not have the commanding lead he currently enjoys among Democrats. Minus Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) recent jabs at Obama concerning his policies on drone strikes and illegal immigration, Democrats’ level of nostalgia for Obama is slightly higher than Republicans’ dogged support for Trump.

But this alone does not fully appreciate Biden’s strong standing among the Democratic primary electorate. As The Washington Post’s David Byler notes, despite “the presence of prominent black candidates in the race, [Biden] is, at least so far, overwhelmingly the choice of nonwhite voters.” Some polls even have Biden leading Sanders “by over 30 points with African American voters.” In other words, if Biden is able to capture anything close to a majority of black primary voters, this contest is over before it began. Why else would senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus float the idea of a Joe Biden-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) ticket if they too didn’t see the writing on the wall?

Biden’s third pillar of strength derives from his standing with older Democrats, specifically those over 45. In 2016, it was estimated they cast fully 60 percent of all votes in the Democratic primary. These folks are keen on defeating Trump and they are slightly leery of Bernie Sanders’ brand of socialism. Among Democratic primary voters over 65, some national surveys currently have Biden capturing more than 50 percent. These are the voters who are precisely drawn to Biden’s “return to normalcy” spiel. So, however mightily Biden may appear to struggle with younger Democrats, he is more than making up the difference with their older counterparts.

So how is another Democrat in the field to defeat Biden?

It won’t be easy and may even require a tag-team effort on the debate stage, in the media and on the campaign trail. To pierce the Biden veil of inevitability, a successful candidate will have to do two things. First, he or she will have to peel off minority voters, specifically black voters, by prodding Biden without hitting Obama or his cherished liberal legacy; certainly a tall task. Finally, he or she will also have to convince older Democrats that despite the current national polls — some of which show Biden up by double-digits on Trump nationally, Biden is in fact the Democrats’ “worst foot forward in the general election” when it comes to beating President Trump.

Failing this, we are all-but-guaranteed a Trump/Biden 2020 showdown.

Ford O’Connell served as director of rural outreach for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; he runs a political consulting business, is an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management, and is a regular commentator on FOX Business. He has also appeared on CNN. Follow him on Twitter @FordOConnell.

Tags 2020 campaign 2020 Democratic candidates Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Joe Biden Joe Biden John McCain

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