Wow! Over a four day span, stretching from the South Carolina Democratic Primary to the conclusion of “Super Tuesday,” Joe Biden vaulted from the position of a marginal Democratic presidential candidate to the frontrunner. The 538 website now predicts that Biden has a 93 percent chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Here’s my assessment of Biden’s pros and cons.
The latest Real Clear Politics summary of national polls shows Biden beating Trump by an average of 6.3 percent. Nonetheless, we remember all too well that Clinton led Trump throughout a long and agonizing campaign and then lost the election, courtesy of the electoral college. Uncle Joe can beat Trump but it’s far from certain.
Pros. 1. Electability: After the South Carolina primary, it was clear to most Democrats that the race for the nomination had narrowed to four contenders: Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren. Before Super Tuesday there was a massive shift towards Biden, primarily on the basis of electability; late-deciding voters preferred Joe. (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-we-know-about-the-voters-who-swung-super-tuesday-for-biden/)
Bloomberg appeared to lose favor after being savaged by Elizabeth Warren in the February 19th Democratic debate. As for Senator Warren, she never broke into the top tier in any of the early Democratic contests — there are a lot of theories about why this was the case, but the simplest explanation is that she was the victim of sexism; most Democratic males did not take her candidacy seriously.
Given this, why did late-deciding voters break for Biden rather than Sanders? Probably because of the Coronavirus pandemic: Democrats wanted a steady hand on the wheel and decided that, because of temperament, their choice would be Joe Biden rather than Bernie Sanders.
2. Broad Coalition: Exit polls from the March 10th Michigan Democratic Primary, showed that Biden assembled a much broader coalition than did Sanders. Biden carried women, African-Americans, white men (with college degree and without), and “mainstream” Democrats; Sanders strongest categories were young voters (18 to 29) and those defining themselves a “very liberal.”
3. Coattails: There is a broad perception, among Democratic voters, that Joe Biden will have stronger coattails than Bernie Sanders. Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg made this assertion: “Bernie Sanders would ‘jeopardize’ the re-election of 42 House Democrats in battleground districts and therefore the party’s majority rule of the chamber if the self-described Democratic socialist becomes the party’s nominee for president.”
In 2020, Democrats have to take back both the Presidency and the Senate. If “Moscow Mitch” McConnell remains Senate Majority Leader, he will block most Democratic legislative initiatives. From here, the contested Senate seats are: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Maine, and North Carolina. (Democrats have to win four.)
Consider the situation in Arizona, where there’s a contested Senate seat now held by Republican Martha McSally — a Trump acolyte. In the 2020 Arizona Senatorial election, she’ll be opposed by former astronaut Mark Kelly — husband of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords. In 2016, Arizona narrowly went to Trump. At the moment, Biden and Trump are even in Arizona; Trump is ahead of Sanders by seven percentage points. (In the other states, Biden consistently outperforms Sanders in a head-to-head contest with Trump.)
Cons. 1. Mental Acuity: Biden has long had a reputation for gaffes. (Just recently, he told a Detroit gun enthusiast that he was “full of shit.”) Part of the problem has been that Biden tends to be longwinded, and go off script and this creates the opportunity for gaffes. Recently, Biden’s speeches have been more disciplined. (https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Biden-s-shorter-speeches-give-fewer-chances-for-15118385.php )
In the general election, Trump will probably attack Biden’s mental health (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/05/donald-trump-joe-biden-health-attack). After Super Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “Then we have this crazy thing that happened on Tuesday, which [Biden] thought was Thursday, but he also said 150 million people were killed with guns and that he was running for the United States Senate. There’s something going on there.” Look who is talking about mental health!
Biden has always been gaffe-prone. As long as he stays on script, Uncle Joe’s mental health shouldn’t be an issue in presidential contest.
2. Insider Status: Bernie Sanders has attacked Joe Biden as the consummate Washington insider. In 1972, at the age of 30, Biden became Delaware’s U.S. Senator and served in the Senate for the next 36 years, leaving when he became Vice President in 2009.
Of course, Sanders and Trump paint themselves as populist outsiders who intend to “drain the swamp.” (Trump has little to show for this pledge.)
Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, most voters want a steady hand on the wheel of state and are likely to consider Biden’s long Washington experience as a plus, as an indication that he knows how to implement the programs required to deal with this emergency.
3. Track Record: Because Joe Biden has 44-year record of service, as Senator and Vice-President, he’s been involved in a lot of legislation: some good and some not so good. For example, Sanders and Trump have attacked Biden because he voted for NAFTA.
In normal times, Biden’s track record might be a problem for him but these are not normal times. And Donald Trump has a track record, too; a record of broken promises and bungled initiatives. (For example, we remember Trump’s campaign promise to invest $550 Billion in America’s infrastructure.)
Bottom Line: This has turned into a confidence and competency election. Biden leads Trump on both of these factors.