There you have it, the 2020 election is now fully underway. With a couple more Democrats yet to join 20 other of their contemporaries, Joe Biden can rest easy, for he is currently polling at just under 30% in the polls. It is his race to lose. Yet the question is, is that possible?
Biden’s campaign announcement focused on something that no other Democratic candidate had focused on: the 2017 Charlottesville riots. The message of the video was that “we are in the battle for the soul of this nation”, rescuing it from a President who praised a coalition of neo-Nazis, Klansmen and anti-Semites. This is a message unlike any other candidate for the nomination. What Biden did uniquely was position himself as the ‘de facto’ nominee, the man to defeat Trump, the man to find common ground.
There is still a lot of game left to be played however, and Biden maintains a shaky lead. Historically, polls this far from the Iowa caucus in February 2020 aren’t reliable. For example, if they were correct in 2008, Hillary Clinton would have won the Democratic candidacy, putting her head to head against Rudy Giuliani for the presidency. In fact what happened was that 2 underdogs swept in and swiped the nomination from under their noses. In 2016, Jeb Bush held a lead in many polls. Many were predicting a rematch of 1992 with Hillary Clinton winning the nomination. Instead... Well, that doesn’t really need explaining. Joe Biden’s lead is equally as unpredictable. At this stage of polling, it is all name recognition for him.
As you may have seen, the sands on which the Democratic primary are resting have significantly shifted. In January, it was Biden vs. Bernie, now it is Biden vs. Bernie vs. Buttigieg vs. Harris vs. Warren, who are all polling strongly in the early battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But for the time being, the only threats to Biden are Bernie and Buttigieg. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana has sharply increased his standings in the polls, jumping from 0% to 14% in Iowa, 1% to 15% in New Hampshire, and 1% to 17% nationally: All in 3 months. He is attracting votes from both Bernie and Biden meaning that the coronation Biden had privately hoped for is not necessarily within reach.
Indeed, Biden grew up in, and to an extent represents, an era of the party that is no longer mainstream. Before Biden entered politics as a Senator in the ‘70s, he grew up in an era when the Democrats were popular in Deep South states such as Alabama and Texas, in the rust belt, in West Virginia; Now all heavily Republican states. Biden needs to navigate through the most progressive membership the Democratic Party has ever seen, who are yearning to see some fresh leadership and radical policies. Add his controversial past of the Anita Hill hearings and segregationist comments to the mix and you have a candidate who is potentially facing a third defeat in a presidential primary. Additionally his Senate mentor, Robert Byrd was a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, so it will be difficult for Biden to pilot his campaign through what will inevitably be a campaign defined by his past.
Biden needs to appeal to moderates. Adopt Bernie’s issues and you then become a socialist in the eyes of at least 33% of the electorate. Biden appeals well to ‘middle America’ who see him as a blue collar uncle. The voters who switched from Democrat to Republican in 2016 resented Hillary Clinton’s globalist, neoliberal crony-capitalist campaign heavily oriented around cities and the coasts. Biden can bring these voters back. The 2016 election was decided on 74,000 votes from Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, from areas that used to be Democratic in Joe Biden’s heyday. They are going to be seriously contested in 2020 by President Trump who sees ‘Sleepy Joe’ as a man who can appeal to blue collar Democrats and Republicans who have been turned off by the Democrats’ elite and out-of-touch leadership since 2014.
So, if Joe Biden is reading this article on Perspectives website (to be honest, he probably is), I would encourage him to go to the towns across middle America. Go to the places which voted Democrat in 2000 and 2008, the towns the industrial heartlands. Don’t just go to California, Washington and New York, go to Indiana, Missouri, Georgia, Montana, etc. Pick a diverse and young running mate: Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Pete Buttigieg, and then run on a message of compromise, integrity and experience, placing the middle classes and working classes at the heart of your campaign. Maintain the respect you have for Republicans like the late great John McCain, don’t use a private email server and don’t go on about Russia! You can thank me when you’re in the Oval Office, Joe!
But as we all know, it is never that simple...
Image credit: Adam Fagen, Flickr, 2013.