Politics

Is Joe Biden Still the 2020 Democratic Front-Runner?

Staffers at the Biden campaign headquarters in Philadelphia draw confidence from their candidate’s seeming so far to be, despite the incoming fire, “bulletproof.” They note that, starting with the inappropriate-touching “scandal” in the spring, none of the things that were supposed to destroy their candidate has had any lasting impact. Yes, they know that other campaigns believe the Biden campaign has taken on so much water that it’s only a matter of time before it capsizes. Yes, they hear the smart political commentators saying the polls are lagging indicators that don’t reflect the current reality of a sinking campaign. But the Biden skeptics have been saying that for months and he’s still trundling along as a front-runner, still polling better against Trump than any of the other candidates. One Biden confidant who spoke to him recently insisted the candidate himself remains confident, while conceding that maybe some anxiety had crept in about the primary race. “There’s a little insecurity that every human being would have before knowing where the roulette ball lands,” the confidant said, and Biden is frustrated that it’s hard to “run a general-election campaign and a primary-campaign at the same time. But he has no doubt that he would beat Trump, and he believes that to the core.”

What about the observation, registered both by other campaigns and by reporters, that Biden’s crowds are smaller and less exuberant than, say, Warren’s or Buttigieg’s? His team insists it’s choosing to have him appear in small venues in small towns mostly in the middle of workdays because that’s how they get to their voters; they say that polling in Iowa shows his strength is in rural areas, and that they expect to run up the score there.

“It’s not a problem if they’re older, because Iowa caucus-goers are older, so that aligns well,” Pete Kavanaugh, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, told me. “We feel perfectly fine with the crowds we’re getting.”

The people who do come to Biden’s events who come do tend to say they’re committed.

Melanie Weatherall, a 50-year old retired nurse who showed up at his campaign-office opening in Des Moines last weekend wearing a full-body bald-eagle outfit with BIDEN embroidered on the back and carrying a handful of Stars and tripes balloons, told me she has no doubts about Biden. “It touches my heart that he got in. He could be on the beach in Hawaii drinking a margarita.”

“He has wonderful experience,” Charlotte Leick, a 59-year-old nurse who’d just watched him in Dubuque, told me. Her friend Patty Kowalske, who’s also 59 and works as a receptionist in town, walked up while we were speaking. “Joe’s the man,” she said, then started quietly chanting, “Go, Joe! Say it’s so!”

Another friend of theirs, who looked slightly older, beamed as she showed off the spot on her chin where Biden had kissed her. “She was saying on the way in she wanted to lay him,” Kowalske said with a laugh. “She got close!”


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