Skip to content
More from
Bloomberg
Politics
relates to Thousands Begin Dispersing After Rainy Rally: Hong Kong Update
relates to Spain Rebukes Salvini, Offers to Take ‘Open Arms’ Migrants relates to Erdogan Faces Snub From Lawyers Boycotting Palace Ceremony relates to Southern Africa Leaders Call for End to Zimbabwe Sanctions relates to Hong Kong Resets Democracy Push With Peaceful Mass March in Rain relates to Kudlow Pushes Back on Recession, Says U.S.-China Calls Positive relates to Zimbabwe Police Ban Planned Protest Marches by Opposition relates to Gibraltar Says Can’t Seek Court Order Detaining Tanker for U.S. relates to Germany Says It Could Spend Extra $55 Billion If Crisis Hits relates to Singapore Must Stay Independent in U.S.-China Conflict, PM Says relates to Thousands Begin Dispersing After Rainy Rally: Hong Kong Update
relates to Spain Rebukes Salvini, Offers to Take ‘Open Arms’ Migrants relates to Erdogan Faces Snub From Lawyers Boycotting Palace Ceremony relates to Southern Africa Leaders Call for End to Zimbabwe Sanctions relates to Hong Kong Resets Democracy Push With Peaceful Mass March in Rain relates to Kudlow Pushes Back on Recession, Says U.S.-China Calls Positive relates to Zimbabwe Police Ban Planned Protest Marches by Opposition relates to Gibraltar Says Can’t Seek Court Order Detaining Tanker for U.S. relates to Germany Says It Could Spend Extra $55 Billion If Crisis Hits relates to Singapore Must Stay Independent in U.S.-China Conflict, PM Says relates to Thousands Begin Dispersing After Rainy Rally: Hong Kong Update
relates to Spain Rebukes Salvini, Offers to Take ‘Open Arms’ Migrants relates to Erdogan Faces Snub From Lawyers Boycotting Palace Ceremony relates to Southern Africa Leaders Call for End to Zimbabwe Sanctions relates to Hong Kong Resets Democracy Push With Peaceful Mass March in Rain relates to Kudlow Pushes Back on Recession, Says U.S.-China Calls Positive relates to Zimbabwe Police Ban Planned Protest Marches by Opposition relates to Gibraltar Says Can’t Seek Court Order Detaining Tanker for U.S. relates to Germany Says It Could Spend Extra $55 Billion If Crisis Hits relates to Singapore Must Stay Independent in U.S.-China Conflict, PM Says
politics

Joe Biden Is Still Acting Like It’s His to Lose, But Warning Signs Are Flashing

Joe Biden Is Still Acting Like It’s His to Lose, But Warning Signs Are Flashing

  • Voters are ‘fond’ of him, yet may lack passion to cast ballots
  • Ground game and fund-raising beginning to lag that of rivals
Joe Biden

Joe Biden

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
Joe Biden
Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Joe Biden campaigns like time is the only thing standing between him and the Democratic nomination. But there are growing signs that his third bid for the presidency is anything but inevitable.

The former vice president offers a message of inclusivity with a moderate policy agenda aimed squarely at President Donald Trump in the general election. But a wide range of vulnerabilities, already evident in polling, fundraising and field organization, could get in the way.

Biden is facing nearly two dozen opponents trying to knock him off, even as he often takes a posture reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, when she only had one viable opponent. And his late entry into the field -- two to four months after the other top-polling candidates -- has had him playing catch up.

Perhaps most worrisome for Biden is that he doesn’t appear to excite passions among Democratic voters or insiders like the last two nominees. “Barack Obama was loved. Hillary Clinton was feared,” said Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo. “Joe Biden doesn’t bring out such strong passions.”

“There’s almost universal fondness for him with Democrats but the intensity isn’t there. Everybody in the party sees him as a really good man, he’s likable, he’s Uncle Joe,” said another operative, Brian Fallon, Clinton’s 2016 press secretary. “There are other candidates that can build an intense following that could prove his support to be soft. But it remains to be seen.”

Earlier: Biden Attacks Trump as He Tries to Pivot From Busing Debate

His performance during the first Democratic debate in Miami did little to assure people who worry whether he has the gumption to take on what is certainly going to be a nasty general election against Trump. Under attack from California Senator Kamala Harris, he seemed lethargic, lost his train of thought in mid-answer, and seemed ill-prepared.

While Biden leads in virtually every poll, his margin has begun to narrow as Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren have risen in standing along with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. In a CBS News battleground tracker poll of Democrats released Sunday, for instance, Biden was the first choice of 25% of those surveyed. Warren was at 20%, followed by Harris at 16% and Sanders at 15%.

And Biden wasn’t given especially high marks for the campaign he’s run so far, with 32% saying Harris has been strongest, with 24% tipping toward Warren and 22% saying Biden.

No one bump in the road for Biden -- his habit of hugging and touching; his treatment of Anita Hill in the early 1990s; his recollection of good relationships with segregationist senators --- has knocked him out of the lead yet.

Read More: Harris’s Breakout Moment Came When She Talked About Childhood

“It may be true that none of these things by themselves are dispositive but I would begin to worry that after a certain point cumulatively these things will start to take a toll and people will start to see him as not being Teflon,” Fallon said.

At a recent rally in Las Vegas, voter Ted Lockamon illustrated some of Biden’s challenges. He supports Biden but says Biden has to “earn” his vote.

“Joe very much thinks of everybody in the Democrats as his friend and he has to look at them as opponents,” he said. “He’s the guy to take down. If you’re the front-runner, which he is, he should be ready.”

Biden, who has decades of gaffes under his belt, rarely answers questions in front of audiences, and his team has taken the rare step of opening fundraisers to reporters partly to deter him from misstatements that would later leak.

Nikole Mendoza, 29, an undecided voter from Las Vegas, said she thought Biden was particularly “eloquent,” during a brief Q-and-A session, but that electability wasn’t as important to her as the candidate whose views appeal to her.

“I’d want to support the one who most represents my values and hopefully that’s the one that gets consensus to be the face of the Democratic Party,” she said.

Earlier: Democrats’ Cash Haul at $99 Million and Counting as Big 5 Emerge

Biden’s fund-raising has been strong but not the strongest in the race. He raised $21.5 million during the second quarter of the year, his campaign’s first, but Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, took in $24.8 million on the back of a few viral moments and enthusiasm among LGBT voters. And Warren came close to Biden, raising $19.1 million without holding a single high-dollar fundraiser.

Biden’s operations in key early states are smaller or about the same size as opponents’ and even as he tells voters that they’ll get sick of him visiting their state because he’ll be there so much, he trails the other top candidates in the number of trips and the geographical diversity of those visits.

A Biden adviser, who was granted anonymity to discuss the internal workings of the campaign, said that while the former vice president got into the race months later than most of his opponents, the operation is rapidly building up. Its staffing levels in early states, the adviser added, are similar or higher than opponents and will be even more impressive by Labor Day.

Biden has visited Nevada just twice, stopping only in Las Vegas. That puts him far behind other candidates, including Julian Castro, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary, who’s made eight trips; Harris and Senator Cory Booker, who’ve each made seven visits; and Sanders and Warren, who’ve made five trips to the state since entering the race. They’ve all spent time in the Reno area as well as Las Vegas.

Read More: Warren Outshines Biden in Race to Build Iowa 2020 Ground Game

But it’s also because Biden is spending a significant chunk of his time raising money in wealthy enclaves. More than a third of his second-quarter haul came in max-out increments of $2,800 and he’s planning an August tour of the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard, Aspen and Sun Valley. Other candidates, including Harris, Buttigieg, Booker and Amy Klobuchar will be making similar circuits.

Last week, after two days in Iowa, Biden flew by private jet to Los Angeles for four fundraisers including one at a Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Tom Rothman in Bel Air and another at an oceanfront spread in Palos Verdes Estates.

Sanders generally appears only at large “grassroots” fundraisers, like one planned for Friday in Los Angeles, which he’s pairing with a town hall and a rally that are both open to the public. Biden’s only non-fundraiser appearances in California have been for photo-ops at Mexican and soul food restaurants.

Another sign of his tenuous grasp on front-runner status are his endorsements, though it’s still early in the contest. Despite his five decades in national politics, Biden, with 15, barely edges out Harris and Booker, with 12 each, for formal endorsements from members of Congress.

At the Las Vegas event, Representative Dina Titus of Nevada introduced “Smokin’ Joe” as “somebody who has always been in the trenches with us and for us,” but she stopped short of endorsing him.

The slow endorsements reflect the ambivalence around Biden and about his fate in the nomination battle that more political leaders haven’t committed to him.

And even his ties to Obama, frequently cited on the stump, aren’t fully convincing to voters.

“It’s important to keep in Obama supporters’ minds that he’s connected to that legacy. At the same time, it’s also important for him to be able to stand on his own," said Shalonda Crawford, co-pastor of Experience Christian Ministries in South Central Los Angeles, an African American community leader invited to hear Biden at a soul food restaurant where he served up grits. “He has to be strong enough to stand on his own policies and agenda,” added Crawford, who’s an undecided voter.