Former Vice President Joe Biden maintains a comfortable lead in national Democratic primary polls, but mounting pressures have eroded his support in two pivotal early primary states and threaten the moderate lane to the party’s presidential nomination.
Biden’s lead over rival candidates has dwindled from a high of 41 percent in May, to 27 percent as of Dec. 3, according to a Real Clear Politics daily average of polling data. Revelations about his son Hunter Biden’s personal enrichment from a Ukrainian gas company, while Joe Biden was the Obama administration’s top Ukraine official, have undoubtedly damaged the former vice president, as have viral social media clips showing odd comments and strange behavior on the campaign trail.
Biden lashed out at left-wing rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in Iowa on Monday during his eight-day, 18 county “No Malarkey” traverse through the all-important first primary state. The Massachusetts senator has pulled ahead of Biden in Iowa, along with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who is an avowed socialist.
When a reporter mentioned voter enthusiasm for Warren during an afternoon press scrum, Biden scoffed: “You don’t see that with Warren. Stop kidding a kidder. OK, c’mon, man, give men a break,” Bloomberg News reported.
“Look at the polling everywhere,” he continued. “OK. Tell me, tell me where this great enthusiasm is manifesting itself.”
Biden also took a shot at Buttigieg. “He doesn’t have the enthusiasm of moderates,” he protested while adding that Buttigieg “stole” his health care plan. “He stole it!” Biden said of Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan, which is essentially Obamacare with a public option.
Perhaps hitting closest to home, Biden dismissed any concerns over President Obama’s refusal to endorse him, though he faithfully served as Obama’s vice president for eight years. “Everyone knows I’m close with him,” Biden said in a Monday interview with Politico. “I don’t need an endorsement.”
When confronted about reports that Obama told another candidate that Biden “really doesn’t have it,” Biden responded: “He may have said that. And if it’s true, and he said it, there’s truth to it.”
However, he challenged the notion that he can’t connect with voters. “If you notice in our campaign, I was the one that had the intimate relationships. I was the one that was sent into Pennsylvania, I was the one that was sent into Colorado, I was the one that was sent into Virginia, I was the one who was sent into Florida,” he said, adding, “And the reason was because all the polling and data showed that I had those relationships with the base of the Democratic Party.”
Biden is currently polling first in Pennsylvania and Florida, and is tied with Sanders in Colorado, but the balance of his support could easily change if he performs poorly in earlier primaries. New Hampshire voters, for example, will cast their ballots immediately after the Iowa caucuses, and Biden currently sits fourth in the Granite State, behind Buttigieg, Sanders, and Warren, respectively.
What’s more, Biden’s national support may be more of a bulwark against the radical left than genuine support for the 77-year-old. Polls have consistently shown that moderates and independents believe the Democratic Party has ventured too far left, and outside of newly announced Democratic candidate Michael Bloomberg, who is polling at 5 percent, Biden may be the only viable moderate in the Democratic presidential field.
That said, near-daily social media clips show Biden confused, making grossly inaccurate statements and wandering into odd, incoherent rants—all of which the Trump campaign has happily promoted.
On Monday, Biden stood on stage in front of Iowa supporters, paused with a microphone in hand, and asked an offstage staffer in an apparent non-sequitur, “What’s the schedule, what am I doing?” A day earlier, Biden recalled how he “spent a lot of time” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, which never occurred.
Biden also appeared to nibble on his wife’s finger onstage at a “No Malarkey” campaign stop over the weekend.
If he falters, the alternative candidates present an existential problem for many traditional Democratic partygoers.
Prominent Wall Street Democratic donors have already signaled that they would rather sit out the 2020 election or back President Trump if Elizabeth Warren garners the party nomination. “You’re in a box because you’re a Democrat and you’re thinking, ‘I want to help the party, but she’s going to hurt me, so I’m going to help President Trump,’” a senior private equity executive told CNBC in September.
When the financial network tweeted a similar story about fearful Wall Street executives, Warren responded by tweeting, “I’m Elizabeth Warren and I approve this message.”
Socialist Bernie Sanders fares no better among moderates. According to Politico, President Obama has gone as far as saying privately that if Bernie [Sanders] were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him.
Buttigieg, 37, has surged in recent weeks arguably by being both left-wing and moderate to different audiences, but he is severely underperforming with African Americans, 90 percent of whom voted for Democratic candidates in the 2018 mid-terms.
Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television and the first African American billionaire, told CNBC in a weekend interview that “the 2020 election is President Trump’s to lose,” and that Democrats are “not capable of beating Trump.”
“None of the president’s Democratic challengers appear to be enough in the center where most voters are,” he said.