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Biden is a stronger candidate than many think

Updated April 27, 2019 - 11:57 pm

Polls show Joe Biden is the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. He’s also being underestimated.

“I think that Joe Biden’s best day is his first day,” conservative talk show host Ben Shapiro said after Biden’s announcement.

“Is the Biden appeal about to fade?” was the subject of a discussion among New York Magazine writers earlier this month. Ezekiel Kweku said, “I think his high ratings are pure Obama nostalgia, and I have my doubts that they would carry him through both a primary and a general election.”

It’s a mistake, however, to so quickly dismiss his candidacy.

Biden’s first advantage is his most obvious. He starts in the lead. The latest polling of Democratic primary voters from Morning Consult show he’s at 30 percent, a 6-point lead over Bernie Sanders.

While other candidates have to spend time and money introducing themselves to voters, Biden has near-universal name recognition. He’s also closely associated with a very popular Democrat, former President Barack Obama. That’s reflected in Biden’s net favorability rating among Democrats, which is at 75-to-14 percent, approval to disapproval.

Biden has plenty of room to grow as the field thins out. He’s the most-named second choice among supporters of Sanders, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris.

The top priority for Democratic primary voters is electability. By a 65-to-28 percent margin they favor a candidate with the best chance to beat President Donald Trump over one who matches their policy preferences. Democratic primary voters also view Biden as the most electable candidate.

Some of that is name ID, but it’s also a recognition that Democrats need to run better in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Even though he’s spent his entire career in Washington, D.C., Biden gives off a working-class vibe. Expect him to receive strong labor union support, which will help him in the Democratic primaries.

Biden is running as a centrist Democrat. If he has the discipline to stick with that approach, it will serve him well. That’s because many candidates are running as socialists or promoting socialist policies. Sanders leads that group, but he has competition from Buttigieg, Harris and Elizabeth Warren. Outside of Biden the most prominent centrist is Amy Klobuchar. Who? Exactly.

Although, the Democratic Party has moved far to the left, many of its voters — especially older ones — haven’t. Older voters are a larger share of the electorate than their younger counterparts, even if they aren’t as visible on social media, where the press gets many of its ideas. In the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucuses, around 65 percent of participants were 45 and older. In 2018, conservative and moderate Democrats amounted to more than half of all Democratic voters, according to exit polling.

If Biden can dominate among these voters, he has a clear path to victory.

If Buttigieg, Harris or Warren had these advantages, you’d pencil them in for the nomination. Biden’s biggest problem is that he’s Joe Biden. His two previous presidential runs have ended poorly. He’s a gaffe machine. His handsy approach is awkward, if not creepy. He starts at a fundraising disadvantage.

His campaign rollout didn’t even go smoothly. His launch video referenced the tragic death of Heather Heyer, who was killed while protesting a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. He didn’t inform her family beforehand, however, that he was going to thrust them into the media spotlight.

Biden has weaknesses. They may even end up as fatal flaws. But in a crowded field, he’s by far the strongest candidate.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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