To read and watch the pundits talk, former Vice President Joe Biden is coming to an end of his quest for the presidency.
He was stunned by attacks from California Sen. Kamala Harris in the first debate; he is tripping over his words and talking way too much; he is looking old; and he is at the center of the Ukrainian scandal that is the focus of attention in Washington (but perhaps not everywhere else). Even new candidates like former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick are ready to fill in the moderate gap they see with Biden’s tumble.
But Joe Biden is not politically dead. There has simply been too much wailing and gnashing of teeth by Democratic insiders and Trump-haters who want the strongest candidate possible to face the incumbent in November 2020. Despite being at the center of Donald Trump’s impeachment investigation, polling at lower levels than when he started, and giving up the position of undisputed leader in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, the former VP still has a lot going for him.
He continues to lead in most national polls. He is very much in the mix in Iowa and New Hampshire. He leads handsomely in Nevada, South Carolina and California, which follow the two benchmark states. He remains solid and unchallenged in the support he receives from African Americans — a solid constituency whose large turnout helped put Barack Obama over the top in 2008 and 2012 and whose weaker turnout spelled doom for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Biden is still a formidable debater, and he has weathered attacks so far. He possesses both the experience and demeanor of “the everyman” to simply laugh at Donald Trump’s shenanigans. He was adept in defeating Sarah Palin in 2008 without going into overkill mode, and he minced Paul Ryan with ridicule in 2012, winning both vice presidential debates.
I would actually make the case that his polling numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire may be a blessing in disguise. While Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana are taking their turns at leading, are they peaking too early? Can they deal with the significant charges that either their plans are too controversial (Warren) or that they lack experience (Buttigieg)? In a crowded field, especially one that is about to get testier, Biden just might be better off going into Iowa and New Hampshire with reduced expectations and matching or surpassing those than by polling in higher numbers and failing to attain what is expected.
As for the rambling, that is Joe being Joe. He may be slower than he used to be, but he is still talking at least half a mile a minute. After each of the three debates, I have watched him on the stage in a crouch shaking hands, taking selfies, inching closer to hug fans — few of us can successfully do that.
No one is anointed — nor should they be. Early frontrunners often crash. At this point in time in 2003, Howard Dean was all but the official nominee for the Democrats, but voters changed their minds, from favoring someone who stood on principle over one who could defeat then-President George W. Bush. Biden has his challenges ahead, and other frontrunners may come and go (just remember the GOP primaries in 2012, where everyone in the field had the lead at one point). But Biden is very much in this race.