September 28, 2015
It’s time. If Joe is going to go, this is the week. CNN has given him an out on the actual announcement date, their rules for the October 13 debate allow him to wait until that day to announce. Technically, he could choose to participate and say he’s a candidate in his closing statement.Practically, if he’s going to appear, he needs to make up his mind about a week ahead. So Vice President Biden is on the clock, with approximately 168 hours remaining. There is another window later on. If Hillary completely implodes, Biden can run to the rescue in a couple of months, with enough time to get on the ballot in many states.
That’s a narrow window though and it depends on a bunch of outside forces. Joe would need to hope that Bernie Sanders is close to his ceiling at the 38% he currently picks up in a two-way race (Based on the most recent NBC/WSJ poll). Bernie is a very underrated candidate. He stays on message and has a consistent record. A majority of Democratic primary voters can sign off on his platform. Odds are he does well in the debates.
Hillary is currently favored to beat Bernie in a head-to-head contest in part based on her supposed organizational advantage. She has more official boots on the ground, way more endorsements, etc. It’s possible Sanders will build a more than adequate organic team of his own. If he does, Biden will have to compete with an entrenched insurgent candidate. That’s hard. Even if Bernie isn’t as prepared as his supporters think, Joe won’t have Hillary’s infrastructure.
By waiting for a future opportunity, Biden likely squanders his best chance to move past Bernie before people vote. He’s currently behind Sanders in most national polls, and trails him in Iowa by some and in New Hampshire by a ton. Much like Hillary, he would depend on Southern and Border states for most of his advantage. Clinton considers this area her firewall, Biden his opportunity.
While that’s true, there’s another way to look at it. These mostly red (sometimes crimson) states are a huge opportunity for Bernie. If he’s a legit contender (and I think he is), many traditionally liberal states are very much in play. Some are purplish on Election Day, but the Democrats in those states are exactly what you think a Sanders voter looks like.
New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Montana and Oregon are good examples of places Bernie will win if he’s a contender. Others like Washington and Iowa are likely. Though the caucus states of the Mountain West are red in November and Hillary will not give away delegates like she did in 2008, they still favor Bernie. If you’re brave enough to register and get involved as a Democrat in Utah or Idaho, you aren’t a moderate.
This does not add up to a nomination. Barack Obama was able to win by joining those voters to roughly 3/4 of non-white primary voters. Sanders is currently struggling to win 1/4 of these voters. If Biden gets in now, Bernie has to fight two candidates for these coveted minority voters. That’s a tough task. Sixty to ninety days from now, Sanders will have appeared in a couple of debates and spent airtime focusing on issues impacting African Americans and Latinos.
By December, Sanders will have spent more time in black churches, invested heavily in lobbying the Latino-heavy SEIU to either endorse him or hold off on supporting Clinton or Biden. Bernie’s policy prescriptions are most in line with their goals, they would endorse elsewhere due to viability concerns. Giving Sanders another couple months to make his case is dangerous, as Biden will need to rely heavily on organized labor.
Remember, unlike Republicans who move to winner-take-all delegate awarding in contests beginning March 15, Democrats stay proportional, based on congressional districts, for the entire contest. Bernie does not need to win a majority of voters in minority-heavy states to make an impact. Places like Raleigh-Durham and Austin are places to grab delegates in states where he currently trails badly.
Should he garner 35-40% of African American voters in the South or 35-40% of Latino voters in the Southwest, the numbers no longer favor Biden so heavily. It would force the Veep to win a large majority of white blue collar voters, people who are currently showing some interest in Sanders. Biden will run well among his core constituency and would likely have an AFL-CIO endorsement in his pocket, but would require huge margins to make the math work.
While it’s possible Biden has inside information that would lead him to believe Clinton will be out of the race before Iowa, it’s hard to see how waiting would help him. In a head-to-head race with Sanders, losing badly in Iowa and New Hampshire would really harm a sitting VP. He could survive losing both, but there’s a difference between 8 points in Iowa and 15 in New Hampshire and getting completely obliterated.
That would force Biden to spend most of his January in the earliest voting states, preventing him from locking down some of the others. Having a full 4 months before voting begins is way more advantageous. He could camp out in South Carolina and Nevada and appear frequently in places like Ohio and Florida, while still putting in some Iowa and New Hampshire face time.
If he enters now, Joe is heroically putting himself on the line to live out the deathbed wishes of his son Beau. He waited long enough to partially grieve, long enough to see Hillary weaken enough to make this more than a quixotic quest. Though it’s impossible to begrudge Biden taking a couple more months (trying to run a presidential campaign is unimaginable for most of us under the best of circumstances), his only future opportunity is in conjunction with Hillary’s campaign being mortally wounded. Some would see this as opportunistic.
Remember, most Democrats still view all three candidates favorably. Biden has the highest favorables, Sanders the lowest unfavorables, but most GOP contenders would happily take Hillary’s Democrat +/- ratio if they had it with Republican voters. People supporting Biden or Clinton still like Bernie quite a bit. In order to win a two-way race, Biden would need the vast majority of Hillary supporters.
When Bobby Kennedy waited for LBJ to opt out in 1968, rather than jumping in earlier like Gene McCarthy, he did not retain all of his previous support. Some RFK fans rallied to McCarthy to fight LBJ and stayed. This wound up costing Kennedy the Oregon primary. While Sirhan Sirhan prevented us from knowing the final outcome (which might have still resulted in a Hubert Humphrey nomination), it definitely made a difference.
Assuming Hillary is just wounded and not broken, Biden definitely needs to get in now to give himself time to build a credible organization, win endorsements and get himself into fighting shape. Being a sitting VP gives him the ability to get away with entering now, later than winning candidates have in the past few decades (this doesn’t count those like Reagan in ’80 or Clinton in ’92 who were clearly in and just hadn’t announced).
Waiting until Thanksgiving and trying to get past two well funded and organized candidates is absurdly difficult at best. If Joe thinks he’s up to the task and agrees with those of us who think he has excellent odds, now is the time. Declaring earlier wouldn’t have helped, and Biden needed time for his personal mental state and to develop a strategy. Unlike a couple months ago, Biden is doing far better than Hillary in pseudo-match ups with GOP front-runners.
What Biden decides this week (if he hasn’t already chosen in or out) is likely the biggest event of the 2016 Democratic primary campaign. Analyzing anything before we know about this is fairly useless. I’m still expecting him to run, and to announce ahead of the debate, but until it happens, you never know. If he’s in now, the Biden team has shown discipline, judgment and timing that was absent in 1988 and 2008.
If he just isn’t up to it, either now or ever, that makes perfect sense. The only error is if he thinks his chances are similar in 60-90 days. They’re significantly worse, and it only makes sense to wait if he can’t possibly find the energy to compete now.