Why Obama's support may not help Biden win key swing states

Why Obama's support may not help Biden win key swing states
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It took a while, but President Obama has at last given Joe Biden his blessing. Obama’s endorsement of the presumptive Democratic nominee comes as no surprise, since the former vice president was literally the last candidate standing. Given that inevitability, the nod may not have much impact; it was noteworthy that Obama’s pronouncement took hours to trend on Twitter.

Still, having the popular former president deliver his support should give Biden a boost.

A boost, polling indicates, he sorely needs. Though surveys mostly show Biden ahead of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests MORE in national match-ups, it looks like the race in the all-important battleground states is neck and neck.


In a detailed analysis of recent polls, the New York Times concludes that Biden “holds only a narrow and tenuous edge in the race for the Electoral College, if he holds one at all.”

Biden’s problem is that he has not won over those white voters without a college degree who voted for Obama in 2012 but then pivoted to Trump four years later. That group, which delivered Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin to Republicans in 2016, backs Trump over Biden 61 percent to 32 percent, an even greater margin than the president scored against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida The Hill's Campaign Report: Presidential polls tighten weeks out from Election Day More than 50 Latino faith leaders endorse Biden MORE in 2016. 

That is a surprise since Biden has long argued that his middle-class Pennsylvania roots make him the best candidate to win back those moderate Democratic voters. Certainly, he had a better shot than progressives like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDimon: Wealth tax 'almost impossible to do' CNN's Don Lemon: 'Blow up the entire system' remark taken out of context Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE or billionaire Tom SteyerTom SteyerTV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month Inslee calls Biden climate plan 'perfect for the moment' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump administration finalizes plan to open up Alaska wildlife refuge to drilling | California finalizes fuel efficiency deal with five automakers, undercutting Trump | Democrats use vulnerable GOP senators to get rare win on environment MORE.

But instead of targeting those traditional blue-collar Democrats, Biden is choosing to aggressively court Bernie SandersBernie SandersOutrage erupts over Breonna Taylor grand jury ruling Dimon: Wealth tax 'almost impossible to do' Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death MORE’s supporters by pushing an ever more liberal agenda; this will not be a winning strategy.

The former vice president has performed cartwheels in recent weeks to win Bernie Sanders’s endorsement and the support of the Bernie Bros. President Obama, in his endorsement video, also joined the Sanders lovefest, spending almost as much time extolling Bernie’s virtues as pumping up Biden. Obama and Biden are, of course, eager to unite their party, and especially to attract young progressives.


The day after socialist Sanders ended his campaign, Biden announced shifts to his platform on health care, advocating to lower the Medicare age to 60 from 65, and also changed his stance on student debt forgiveness.

Biden now proposes that the government (aka taxpayers) forgive all undergraduate federal student debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities. That shift is of course meant to appeal to young voters who signed onto Sanders’s campaign in hopes their debt burden would be lifted. Biden does not fare well with voters under the age of 45, and especially those in their 20s, echoing one of the shortcomings of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Uncle Joe’s partnership with Bernie is not confined to those two issues, however. He is in the process of forming joint “task forces” with the Vermont senator and former rival on six “big issues.” Those include: Climate, health care, criminal justice, immigration, the economy and education.

A Biden campaign worker promised “The groups will work together to identify shared policy goals that build upon Vice President Biden’s progressive vision for America.”

Does Biden have a “progressive vision for America”? That will surely come as news to millions of black voters who were key to his nomination. Pew Research shows that 68 percent of black voters identify themselves as moderate or conservative — a far higher percentage than white or Latino Democrats. They did not jump aboard Bernie Sanders’s progressive express; Biden captured a majority of the black vote in every primary, including those won by Sanders.

The leftward lurch of the Democratic Party may explain why, as the Times reports, “there is consistent evidence of a small yet discernible shift in the president’s direction…” with nonwhite voters. 

Blacks will likely respond to Obama’s endorsement, but the further Biden (and Obama) travel to win over the Sanders crowd, the harder it may be to stop that leakage. Georgia State Rep. Vernon Jones, an African-American Democrat, just threw his support to Trump, explaining that “President Trump’s handling of the economy, his support for historically black colleges and his criminal justice initiatives drew me to endorse his campaign.” Jones could prove to be the canary in the coal mine. 

Traditionally some 90 percent of blacks have voted for Democrats. Polling suggests Biden should not take that advantage for granted.

The real question is whether any surrogate – even Obama – can make up for a lackluster candidate who has been unable to raise money or draw crowds, or generally generate even a whiff of excitement. Surveys show Biden at a disadvantage in a match-up with Trump, with “strong enthusiasm” among supporters for the former veep at 24 percent, the lowest ever recorded for a Democratic presidential candidate in 20 years, compared to 53 percent for the president. 

That is why there is such focus on Biden’s pick of a running mate. It is not just because Biden, age 77, is likely to be a one-term president. It is also because Democrats know Biden needs a vibrant and exciting vice-presidential candidate to infuse his campaign with some zip.

Thomas Friedman promoted an even better idea in a recent New York Times column in which he proposed that Biden should nominate not just a running mate but an entire cabinet. He even proposed a list, featuring prominent Americans such as Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoOn The Money: House panel pulls Powell into partisan battles | New York considers hiking taxes on the rich | Treasury: Trump's payroll tax deferral won't hurt Social Security OVERNIGHT ENERGY: California seeks to sell only electric cars by 2035 | EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities | House energy package sparks criticism from left and right EPA threatens to close New York City office after Trump threats to 'anarchist' cities MORE, Ken Chenault and Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreBusiness groups start gaming out a Biden administration Cruz says Senate Republicans likely have votes to confirm Trump Supreme Court nominee 4 inconclusive Electoral College results that challenged our democracy MORE, among many others. 

Imagine all those famous folks jousting for attention and pushing their own policies. It is quite possible that Uncle Joe could get lost in that boisterous and opinionated crowd. Maybe that was Friedman’s idea all along. 

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.