Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jennifer Rubin: 'Biden needs to make a forceful case that now is not time for an amateur at the top'

Balancing act: Former American vice-president Joe Biden. Photo: Getty Images
Balancing act: Former American vice-president Joe Biden. Photo: Getty Images

Jennifer Rubin

THE Democratic race, we should all remember, is a work in progress. A couple of months ago, former representative Beto O'Rourke, of Texas, was a top-tier candidate getting fawning coverage; Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was virtually unknown; and former vice-president Joe Biden had a commanding lead in polling, despite not being an official candidate. Before that, Senator Elizabeth Warren was widely considered a formidable challenger to Senator Bernie Sanders.

Even before the entry by Biden into the race, the gap between himself and Sanders had narrowed in some but certainly not all polls (despite the flap over Biden's well-known propensity to hug), O'Rourke is well back in the pack and Buttigieg is soaring.

The latest Monmouth poll finds Biden currently has the support of 27pc of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, which is similar to his 28pc support in March and 29pc in January.

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Support for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is currently at 20pc, which is down slightly from 25pc in March, but still higher than his 16pc support in January.

"Biden starts off with a fairly stable amount of goodwill from Democrats. We might even expect to see a small bump after his announcement, but the bigger question will be what happens when those voters start taking a closer look at him on the campaign trail. It's a long way to Iowa and a lot can happen," said Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray.

"South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg currently has 8pc support. He registered less than 1pc in prior Monmouth polls. California Senator Kamala Harris has 8pc support, off just slightly from 10pc in March and 11pc in January. Rounding out the field of top contenders are Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, at 6pc (from 8pc in both March and January) and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke at 4pc (6pc in March and 7pc in January)."

Sanders's net favourability has also been sagging, down to 65pc from 70pc last month.

An overwhelming percentage of Democrats say it doesn't matter what the race or gender of the candidate is.

Likewise, the Politico/Morning Consult poll finds among early primary voters Biden's lead is down to six percentage points over Sanders, Buttigieg is up to 9pc, followed by Harris, Warren and O'Rourke. Buttigieg has room to grow his support with 17pc who have no opinion and 36pc who have never heard of him.

With Biden in the race, the first few weeks will be telling with regard to the candidate's discipline, his fundraising (thought to be weaker than others online) and his polling.

The pressure on Biden to avoid gaffes, exceed fundraising totals and move the polls will be considerable. He wants to dispel the notion that Sanders is his equal and put to rest concerns that he lacks the needed oomph to move Democratic voters. Biden has a tricky balance to maintain.

On one hand, he wants to present himself as the guy to bring Democrats and the country as a whole together. In place of amateurism and hyperpartisanship, he offers experience and a defence of democratic values and institutions.

However, Biden also needs to make the case at some point that Sanders is a high-risk candidate for Democrats, and that the Vermont senator is perhaps the only Democrat (other than Warren) that President Trump would love to run against.

Biden will need to puncture the illusion that Sanders has some secret sauce that will attract Trump voters. Perhaps polling will speak for itself, suggesting a gap between Biden and Sanders on the electability front. Maybe another candidate, such as Senator Amy Klobuchar, can take on Sanders.

However, at some point, Biden himself will need to make the case that running on the banner of socialism would spell doom for the Democrats.

Even trickier will be the task of disarming Buttigieg, whose message boils down to this: Biden, Sanders and Trump are the past, while he is the future.

Here, too, Biden may get lucky and Buttigieg may stumble on his own, although his poise and intellectual dexterity make that seem less likely.

More likely, Biden will have to make the argument that now is no time for an amateur.

He had better have a light touch, however, lest he make Buttigieg an even more sympathetic figure.

In sum, Biden's ability to forge consensus and help the United States recover from its excessive tribalism may be in tension with the campaign's short-term tactics of maintaining Biden's likeability while cutting the legs out from under opponents. ( © The Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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