Assuming final touches (both his, to avoid more #MeToo stuff, and his campaign’s, for a smooth roll-out) are complete or nearly so, the question about Joe Biden’s presidential run is this: Can the third time be the charm?
If you see the question in headlines, consider the adage, usually attributed to the British journalist Ian Betteridge, that any headline ending in a question mark can be answered by the word “no.”
And that’s pretty much where I am, for a variety of reasons. Then again, I didn’t think Biden would run.
But, reportedly, he announces Thursday. And I just came across an interesting argument for his candidacy.
It was written as a guest column for the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ “Sabato’s Crystal Ball.”
The author is St. Louis University Law School professor Joel Goldstein, who also authored the 2017 book, The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden.
His take these days is that Biden shouldn’t be judged, as lots of pundits do, on dismal prior presidential runs in 1988 and 2008, for two reasons.
Biden’s a very different candidate after serving eight years as President Barack Obama’s veep. And the vice presidency is a proven asset for stature-building, political experience, and creating presidential nominees.
Goldstein notes that four former veeps – Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, and Al Gore – failed in bids for party nominations prior to becoming vice presidents, and then succeeded in winning nominations after serving as vice president.
Goldstein tells me the vice presidency “elevates people. ... It’s a unique experience. It changes people. It gives them exposure, name recognition. Instead of being seen as one of 100 senators, you’re seen as the No. 2 person in the country, playing at the highest level. You learn from that.”
I mention that I winced at the Mondale reference, given that Mondale, Democratic nominee in 1984, was swamped in the general election by President Ronald Reagan. Mondale carried the District of Columbia and (narrowly) his home state of Minnesota. Reagan won the Electoral College by 525-13.
But Goldstein says Mondale’s vice presidency under President Jimmy Carter was too closely tied to the bad economy and Iranian hostage crisis that marred Carter’s term, whereas Biden “doesn’t have such problems.”
Goldstein notes that when Obama left office, Gallup polling showed his favorability rating at 58 percent. And Biden’s is at 61 percent.
Goldstein concedes that Biden faces challenges in winning his party’s nod to oppose President Donald Trump next year. But, he says, “people shouldn’t sell Biden short” based on past electoral performance.
“Every campaign has its own dynamic. It’s a mistake to think the past is always predictive of what’s going to happen in the future,” Goldstein says.
OK, interesting take.
Add it to the ongoing argument that Biden, a Pennsylvania native with middle-class roots who polls well in his home state, wins the White House by leading party voters who strayed in 2016 back into the fold.
Temple poli-sci professor Robin Kolodny says the current large, diverse Democratic field gets tons of attention from young voters, women, and people of color. But, she says, “if you take a bunch of marginalized working-class folks and make them feel like the party doesn’t want them any longer, they will pick Trump again. Biden would provide a very good bridge. And I’m certain he would diversify the ticket with a VP pick.”
There’s a solid case that Biden’s time has passed, that his party has moved on, that voters are looking for someone fresh, who hasn’t spent 44 years in Washington (36 in the Senate, plus eight as VP).
Also, Biden’s run will be hampered by questions about his record, including shifted positions on abortion, race, criminal justice, Anita Hill. As well as recent negative attention to his touchy-feely habit. And doubts about his ability to raise money.
If Biden can overcome these challenges, he deserves to be the nominee.
And maybe serving as vice president “elevates” his capacity to do that.