By Dave Andrusko
“After Labor Day, more Americans will be paying much closer attention to the 2020 presidential campaign. The Sept. 12 debate will, for some viewers, be the first time they take a serious look at the Democratic field and begin to form stronger opinions. The prior debates were watched by millions of viewers, sure, but being so early in the process, many voters were still keeping their minds open.” — Nate Ashworth
I’m beginning this post with a quote from Nate Ashworth, founder of Election Central, to counterbalance two stories from the belly of the beast (the Washington Post and the New York Times). It serves as a reminder that as much as many Democrats and their media colleagues want Joe Biden to go away, the truth is the former vice president is still the unquestioned leader among his party’s candidates to run against pro-life President Donald Trump in 2020.
Ashworth observes that a single (and way too small) poll showed Biden in a three-way tie with Sens. Warren and Sanders. Most subsequent poll show “the race down to a Biden-Warren-Sanders battle for the majority of voters right now, “Ashworth writes. “That dynamic will continue into September, and it could even solidify further after the next debate. If Biden’s numbers continue to hold [he’s at 32%, 13 points ahead of Warren and 17 points ahead of Sanders in a Monmouth poll], and Warren consolidates more progressives, it’s plausible the race could tighten further into a two-person race depending on how well Bernie performs on stage in September.”
Don’t tell that to Michael Scherer of the Post or to Mark Leibovich of the Times.
In “Presidential hopefuls face a stubborn problem: how to bump Biden,” Scherer begins with the problem to those worried Biden would be an abysmal nominee:
Joe Biden’s fellow candidates have compared him to Donald Trump, dismissed him as past his sell-by date and gone public in unison with concerns about his previous positions on race, abortion and even his physically affectionate campaign style.
There is little evidence that any of it has stuck. Most August polls showed Biden with the support of nearly one in three Democratic voters nationally, far ahead of his nearest presidential opponent and basically unchanged from polling before he announced his campaign.
That resilience has created a challenge for many of the former vice president’s rivals as the summer comes to a close. Their routes to the nomination depend on winning over current Biden supporters, but his staying power has yet to offer a lasting opportunity to chip away.
What to do? Recycle it’s the “next generation’s turn” theme without mentioning Biden by name (a tad hard since all ten Democrats will be on the same stage September 12 in Houston) or “take a risk” with someone new, as Democrats did with John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.
In lieu of an attitude of resignation to Biden’s eventual primary victory, the Times takes a wholly different approach. “Does Joe Biden Want to Be Doing This?: On certain days, Biden 2020 can feel more like a dutiful slog than the last march of a happy warrior.”
There are a number of variations on a single theme which captures the core of Leibovich’s dismissive story: Biden doesn’t really have a rationale for running other than presenting himself as the candidate best suited to defeat President Trump:
Mr. Biden’s campaign has been jackhammering home the premise that he is best suited to winning a general election against an incumbent who must not be re-elected.
“He doesn’t think you need a revolution here,” said Anita Dunn, a Democratic media strategist working for the Biden campaign. His enterprise is built more on a strategic bet: that given the possibility of another four years of Mr. Trump, Democrats will gravitate to the familiar and reach for this stitched-up old teddy bear of a candidate.
Just guessing, but I would assume we’ll see many more stories between now and the September 12 presidential primary debate just like these two.