Biden now has a route to the Oval Office — if he navigates the challenges

Greg Nash

Joe Biden has a clear path to the Democratic presidential nomination, and probably the presidency, if he responds smartly to Trump’s smears and rises to challenges ranging from dealing with controversies over his own son to picking a running mate.

The former Vice President handily defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in yesterday’s big showdown in Michigan, by double digits and winning most every important demographic group. The results show the rapidity with which this race has changed; only a week ago Michigan was considered one of the Vermont socialist’s strongest states, one where he defeated Hillary Clinton in a primary four years ago.

Biden also won decisive victories in Mississippi and Missouri — with 352 total delegates at stake Tuesday, adding to his growing advantage.

In three other states, Biden and Sanders split the smaller states of Idaho and North Dakota respectively, and were running neck and neck in Washington State, though final results there may be a while off. These won’t alter the sizable delegate advantage the former Vice President gained yesterday.

Look for that momentum to escalate next week with 577 delegates, or almost 15 percent of the total, at stake: Biden is expected to win a landslide victory in the biggest test, Florida, and to roll up wins in Illinois and Ohio as well. On March 18 he’s likely to have such a lead in delegates that it will be realistically impossible for Sanders to catch up. He might then start focusing his fight on getting his policy positions in the party platform this summer.

The coalescing behind the 77-year-old Biden has surprised the White House and congressional Republicans who were counting on a bitter, protracted fight. They’ve begun, really resumed, personal and political assaults on Biden, foreshadowing a vicious campaign for the next seven and a half months.

The president suggests Biden is senile, ridiculing him for sometimes confusing dates and people. Never mind that this afflicts the 73-year-old Trump just as much, if not more. But no one is more effective at making and driving home such charges — often untrue — than Trump.

Democrats have cautioned Biden to stay cool. The growing support for the longtime Delaware lawmaker, written off as a goner less than a month ago, reflects a desire for some calm and “normalcy” after the constant turbulence of the current administration.

That may not be easy, as Trump and his accommodating Republican senators — like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham — will step up attacks on Biden and his son, Hunter, who was on a Ukrainian energy company when his Dad was Vice President. This was the matter that precipitated Trump’s impeachment after the president last year tried to shake down the Ukrainians to dish dirt on the Bidens.

The facts are clear: The younger Biden had no qualifications for that post, likely wouldn’t have gotten it with a different last name and — over the years — has involved himself in a series of embarrassing episodes.

Equally clear, and more important, is that the former vice president — to borrow a Trumpian phrase — acted perfectly in demanding a crackdown on corruption in Ukraine and the firing of a bad prosecutor.

But this won’t go away unless Biden is able to acknowledge that his son’s involvement was wrong and he should have stopped it; this was during the time that his other son, Beau, the family’s golden boy, was dying of cancer. It’s hard to convince Biden, says one associate, who fears Hunter is a “walking time bomb.”

The campaign’s fundraising difficulties already are disappearing. Political donors love a winner. Trump, who has been raising money prodigiously for three years, still has a big money and digital technology advantage in a general election.

But there may be an equalizer: Mike Bloomberg, the defeated presidential candidate and New York multibillionaire plans to spend up to a billion dollars to help Biden and Democrats defeat Trump this fall. There will be tons of messages in key battleground states and a sophisticated digital operation that rivals Republican operations. (An unmatchable advantage Trump has is that his incendiary, at times seemingly racist, often angry, messages on Facebook and elsewhere are more successful.)

The Bloomberg Super Pac can’t legally coordinate with Biden or any presidential candidate. But through public venues it can be in sync on messages and priorities; they will have to pay a premium price for advertising, unlikely to bother the ultra-rich former New York City Mayor. (Full disclosure: I worked for Bloomberg News for 14 years.)

This should allow Biden to spend less time fund-raising; a hectic pace for the former vice president often produces verbal slips such as swearing at a Michigan factory worker this week over gun control.

The favorite game of pundits and politicos now is who would be Biden’s vice presidential choice. The simple answer is that — like all other challengers at this stage — it’s totally uncertain.

The conventional wisdom that he’ll pick a woman probably is right. Given he’d be the oldest president ever elected, more attention will be paid to the qualifications of his choice.

That’s a considerable barrier to someone like Stacey Abrams, a darling of establishment liberals. The young African American woman ran an impressive campaign while losing the race for governor of Georgia in 2018; she has never been elected to any office higher than a state representative’s seat.

The Sanders left wing won’t have veto power, but Biden might not want to tap someone who exacerbates tensions — that might apply to Minnesota Senator and unsuccessful presidential aspirant Amy Klobuchar. Staunch liberal, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is not a natural number two. There are others, like moderately liberal Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

To even be speculating about this today — when three weeks ago the focus was how to get Biden to gracefully bow out of the race — represents one of the most remarkable turn-arounds in American politics.

Looking ahead, a caveat for optimistic Democrats: Beware of static analysis in 2020.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign Lindsey Graham Michigan Michigan primary Ron Johnson South Carolina South Carolina primary Super Tuesday

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