A firestorm of chatter in the political class was set off this weekend by a New York Times article revealing that Vice President Joe Biden is revisiting running for president. With that has come questions as to whether it’s too late, could he win the primary and is he a viable general election candidate? The simple answer: Yes. Why? All thanks to the opening created by fellow Democrat and apparent leader Secretary Hillary Clinton. Right now, Biden appears to be everything that Clinton is not.
Looking back on the 2012 election, the exit polling made it clear that character, not issues, were a top deciding factor when going to the polls. Though sometimes by just a hair, Romney almost always came out on top when issues-related polling questions such as, “Which candidate do you trust to do a better job of handling the economy?” were asked. However, when the question, “Who do you think better understands the economic problems of people in this country?” were asked, Obama handily dominated.
Voters related to Obama, felt they could trust him, and believed he shared their values. This is the exact dichotomy that Biden could bring to the Democratic primary if he were to enter the race. It is the void created by Clinton and her campaign that Biden could fill.
With Biden, what you see is what you get. He is approachable, warm, and he embraces people. He doesn’t stand in a Chipotle line in a key swing state and not say a word while hiding behind his aviators. He does the opposite and mixes and mingles as he did at a Jamaican restaurant in Miami last year. In a possibly foreshadowing sign, he autographed the restaurant wall right above Hillary Clinton at Rosalie’s Cucina in Skaneateles, NY. There have been some questionable moments of embrace, like the time he rubbed the incoming Defense Secretary’s wife’s shoulders while whispering into her ear at a press announcement. But those are the moments the public love too and help make him real, like the crazy funny uncle we all have.
Biden isn’t rich either. Though he has been an elected official since 1972, he doesn’t have a few million stashed away and hasn’t charged companies hundreds of thousand or millions for a speech and then returned a favor. While he may make more than four times the average American, he doesn’t have a car elevator or several homes. Also, during his decades of work and his seven years as part of the Executive Branch, he has worked with the other side of the aisle. Biden has been dispatched many times when some of the President Obama’s policy priorities have been stalled on Capitol Hill.
Then there are the life struggles that have played out on a national stage. Some of the greatest fears we have is the loss of our spouse or child. Biden experienced both when he was first elected, and then just a few months ago, his son, Beau, lost his battle with brain cancer. That type of loss and pain both pulls at our hearts and binds us together.
All of these personal elements make Biden a contender in the Democratic primary and that is reflected in the polling. Looking at the most recent Quinnipiac poll, without even announcing, Biden is at 13 percent while Senator Bernie Sanders is at 17 and Clinton is at a dominant 55 percent. While Sanders has been moving up in the polls, he still lacks the national name recognition according to a recent Gallup poll. Biden has such recognition, and it could help him entering this late in the race.
Another sign showing Clinton is vulnerable is the slipping of her favorability ratings among Democrats in the same Gallup poll. If you’re the Clinton campaign, you are scrambling, trying to reassure donors to have confidence in the campaign while questioning whether Biden is a viable general election candidate. Unfortunately for the Clinton campaign, that may be hard to do. As the
Biden is a viable option, and at this point it looks like things could only get better for him. The same is not true for Clinton. Her self-inflicted wounds aren’t going to heal anytime soon. The time is right for Biden to get in the race. The only question will be whether he can distance himself enough from Obama to have his own voice and vision for our nation—a vision that can appeal to a broad base of voters and not remind them of the hope and change that we haven’t seen.