Democratic candidates attack Biden at their own peril 

Democratic candidates attack Biden at their own peril 
© UPI Photo

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE’s takedown of former congressman John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment Head of flight attendants group claims 'broad support' for 'Medicare for All' among union members MORE (D-Md.) at last week’s debate in Detroit deserved the attention it got. Warren (D-Mass.), a happy warrior at heart, chided, “Why go through the trouble of running for president just to talk about what we can’t do?”

She’s right. No one wants to vote for glumly moderate candidates. They can sound like your mean parent lecturing on fiscal discipline or feasibility. 

It’s not that Democrats aren’t looking for a parent in their presidential candidate — they actually are. This election is very much about recommitting to our values and stabilizing our future. They’re both issues parents take seriously in raising children.  

ADVERTISEMENT

As my dad, the best armchair political strategist I know, tells me regularly: the country is wobbling.

And how could we not be wobbling? In less than 24 hours we lost (at least) 31 lives in two mass shootings, spotlighting our desperate problem with access to guns and white supremacy, and it was just announced that they are now opening a domestic terrorism inquiry into a third recent mass shooting. This is the stuff of nightmares — and it is our reality. 

For all the criticism of former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenPossible GOP challenger says Trump doesn't doesn't deserve reelection, but would vote for him over Democrat Joe Biden faces an uncertain path The Memo: Trump pushes back amid signs of economic slowdown MORE as wobbling himself — we all saw him mistakenly identify Houston and Michigan as the site of the shootings before correcting himself — Biden still looks to be the sturdiest to Democratic primary voters.

When Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' Fighter pilot vs. astronaut match-up in Arizona could determine control of Senate MORE (D-Calif.) went after Biden about his record on federally mandated busing in the first debate, there was a lot of speculation that we could be seeing a downward trend for frontrunner Biden. The speculators were right — in the immediate aftermath, Biden dropped 7 points overall and 8 with African American voters, while Harris gained 7 percentage points in support from black voters. Black voters are the most loyal voting bloc for Democrats and the clear target of Harris’s attack on the former VP. 

But life in polling land looks just like it did before the first debate once again. Biden holds a 15-point average lead over Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden faces an uncertain path Bernie Sanders vows to go to 'war with white nationalism and racism' as president Biden: 'There's an awful lot of really good Republicans out there' MORE (I-Vt.), according to RealClear Politics, with 33 percent support in the latest Politico/Morning Consult survey. Sanders garners 19 percent support; Warren has 15 percent and Harris, 9 percent. Things change little when looking at early Democratic primary states. Biden is out front with 32 percent, Sanders at 19 percent, Warren at 16 percent  and Harris at 8 percent. The latest Quinnipiac survey mirrors these findings when it comes to Biden's strength. He sits at 32 percent; Warren surges into second place with 21 percent, with Sanders at 15 percent and Harris at 7 percent. In this survey, Harris suffers a discernible post debate loss. 

ADVERTISEMENT

What’s more, a significant number of Democratic voters have changed their minds about who they support since spring. The most recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that about half of voters have changed who they are backing in the past three months. That makes for a fluid primary with fewer ideological voters than most assume. 

Even so, the primary landscape is less fluid for Biden than other contenders. He has the best record at holding onto his supporters, with roughly two-thirds sticking with him. The key factor? Electability. About 90 percent of Biden supporters say that he’s the most likely to beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE in 2020, as well as significant numbers of voters who support other candidates. A third of Sanders’s and Warren’s supporters, as well as 40 percent of Harris’s voters, agreed that Biden is the most electable. 

In the numbers picture, Biden is not wobbling.

Given his core support and the importance of the electability argument in this primary contest, attacking Biden is misguided. It didn’t work for Harris and it certainly didn’t work for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in the second debate. Her attempt to paint Biden as an enemy of working women, by misconstruing the crux of his argument in a 1981 op-ed, backfired. It allowed Biden to garner sympathy from the audience by referencing his five years as a single parent after his wife died in a car accident that also took the life of his young daughter. And he got the justified opportunity to sting Gillibrand: “You came to Syracuse University with me and said, ‘It was wonderful.’ I’m passionate about the concern, making sure women are treated equally. I don’t know what happened, except you’re now running for president.”

Gillibrand is also on the back foot now with many Biden backers who balked at the mere suggestion that he was for anything but equality, the same way they did when Harris brought his views on integration into question.

I do not point this out because there aren’t legitimate issues with Biden’s record. But I can read the numbers. Making the case that there is any major moral failing in Biden’s approach and commitment to public service is a losing tactic. Warren’s attack-free campaign steadily gains supporters, so it is possible.

Biden is the three-legged stool of the Democratic primary. You may feel unsteady, that you might wobble a bit, but you know you aren’t going to fall. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.