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STEVE SEBELIUS: ‘Steady, stable’ Biden looking to settle down

As courtship metaphors go, it wasn’t the worst ever heard.

“I think you will see voters date other people,” said Greg Schultz, national campaign manager for former Vice President Joe Biden. “We just want to be the ones who get married on caucus day.”

Schultz hastened to add that it doesn’t mean voters aren’t in love with Biden, but that it’s possible to be enthusiastic about him while also being curious about other candidates.

And Democrats surely have a surfeit of choices, everything from the unabashedly liberal (Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren) to the diverse (New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro) to the more moderate pragmatists (Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg).

Biden unmistakably represents the moderate wing of his party, the inheritor of former President Barack Obama’s legacy and a reflection of an era all but gone in Washington, D.C., one in which Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass legislation and — in many cases — even liked each other.

To many modern voters, especially those who’ve known only partisan bickering in Washington, he seems as anachronistic as making calls on a pay telephone or turning to an encyclopedia for information. Back in his day, there really were no fancy computers.

But Schultz and the rest of the Biden team are counting on the former vice president’s experience to carry the day, even if voters are flirting with other candidates while poor Joe waits by his (rotary, probably) phone.

And there’s something to that argument. President Donald Trump isn’t asking Ukraine or China to dig up dirt on Michael Bennet or Steve Bullock is he? Trump “doesn’t want to run against Joe Biden,” Schultz says.

The other senators in the race can’t boast of Biden’s long record of passing legislation, either, although they have sure been able to find fault with parts of it.

Although it seems impossible today, Biden once helped usher through an outright ban on importing assault rifles.

Biden’s centrality to the campaign is measured not just by polls but also in the fact that he’s the most consistently attacked candidate in the race. Activists on the left, Trump’s campaign, fellow candidates and many pundits have taken turns whacking away.

Despite all that, Schultz says, Biden is seen favorably by at least 15 percent of people in every district across the country from which Democratic convention delegates are selected, a testament to Biden’s political skills and personality.

“You can take him to any neighborhood in the country. He either has a friend or he’ll make a friend,” Schultz said.

That’s true even after former Democratic Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores revealed in a piece in The Cut in March that Biden had planted an awkward kiss on her head at a fundraising event in 2014. Biden has responded both by saying he would re-evaluate how he interacts with people and joking about having permission to hug voters at events.

But the question isn’t just about Biden’s personality, his legendary storytelling ability or his propensity to gaffe. It’s this: Do voters believe a moderate would be a more effective foil for Trump in 2020, or do they want the starker contrast provided by a progressive, especially one who’s younger and more diverse?

It would be much more difficult for Trump to portray Biden as a crazy socialist than say, Sanders, who embraces the title. Biden, for example, hasn’t promised “Medicare for All” or free college tuition.

“We’ve got to beat Donald Trump,” Schultz says, laying out the most basic priority for Democrats regardless of their position on the partisan spectrum. “If you don’t do that, nothing else matters.”

But there’s a second question: Assuming Democratic voters do end up marrying Biden at the convention, will the disappointed fans of the jilted progressive candidates come to the wedding? Or will they do what some disaffected Sanders supporters did in 2016, staying home or even voting for Trump?

Back in 2016, top party officials clearly favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders. This time around, party officials have been at pains to open the doors to all comers.

Back in 2016, Trump was a reality show host with a penchant for churlish campaign-trail insults. This time, he’s an incumbent with a record, both good (a good economy, criminal justice reform) and bad (tariff blowbacks, caged children, chaotic staffing and the alleged solicitation of foreign interference in the election).

The all-or-nothing impulse — once the province of Barry “No Vice” Goldwater-types on the right — has grown just as strong on the left. Those voters who wouldn’t date Biden if he was the last candidate standing may be hard to persuade, especially if their chosen suitor is forced off the island by the cold ruthlessness of the nominating process.

“With Joe Biden, you can expect steady, stable leadership,” Schultz says. And that’s true. But the dating world has changed considerably since Biden was first courting voters as a young man in Delaware, and it’s all too easy these days for them to just swipe left.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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