Yesterday I asked how high Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) can go in the polls before a bigger name on the Democratic side jumps into the presidential race. Later in the day a WMUR/CNN Granite State poll in New Hampshire was released showing Hillary Clinton leading Sanders by 8 points, 43 to 35 percent. Moreover, “Clinton is also the candidate who most likely voters say is the least honest, with 28 percent putting her in that category, as compared to only 2 percent for Sanders, while 60 percent of the Democratic primary voters said they did not know.”
Um, is the time for that bigger name now? The most obvious choice is President Obama’s loyal vice president, Joe Biden.
Biden is younger (by a year) than Sanders. Biden is not an avowed socialist. He served for decades in the Senate and will have eight years as vice president. You can’t get more qualified than that. If the Democrats want a realistic candidate and not just a more liberal sparring partner for Hillary Clinton, Biden is certainly a better choice than Sanders. Biden is a genuine populist rooted in the working class ethos of Scranton, Pa. Hillary is, well, you know the story.
Going up against Hillary Clinton, who never tells us what is really on her mind, Biden has no shortage of candor. Hillary has problems relating with “everyday Americans”; Biden can’t stop talking to them. (Can you image Biden ever going into a fast food place and not talking to everyone?) His devotion to his young sons in the wake of his first wife’s death was admirable. The national outpouring of sympathy and respect for his personal resoluteness in the aftermath of his son’s recent death was remarkable.
On policy, Biden would have many advantages. Hillary dragged her feet on gay marriage; Biden prompted Obama to move ahead. She has no particular advantage over Biden when it comes to foreign policy, nor can she claim to have done much to push through Obamacare. Biden was at the president’s side for that.
In terms of political skills, Biden might, as he did in the “grand bargain” debates, conceivably make deals and get along with Republicans. Clinton is divisive; Biden is genial and well liked (really) in the Senate. Recall the 2012 vice presidential debate in which Biden mowed down brainy, aw-shucks Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It might make the GOP think twice about nominating a young but inexperienced fellow. And since you get a couple when you vote for president, keep in mind Biden has Dr. Jill Biden, a smart and able spouse who has campaigned at his side for decades with nary a bobble or controversy. Hillary has Bill. Enough said.
To be sure, Biden is gaffe-prone and sometimes downright silly. Republicans like to say that he has not gotten a foreign policy decision right in 30-plus years. But we are talking about a Democratic primary. And if there is anyone who “deserves” the nomination it is Biden, not Hillary.
Certainly, there is the gender issue. But is it really that big a deal? The lack of excitement over her campaign suggests that unlike race, gender is not perceived as a critical motivator, as least not for her. Hillary’s gender is not preventing her slide in the polls against a male septuagenarian. And if the Democrats are pining for a woman on the ticket, putting a woman like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) or Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in the vice presidential slot would work just fine.
Finally, Biden poses a tactical problem for Republicans. The GOP “oppo” book on Hillary has literally been written and the entire Republican Party is ready to run attack her ethical lapses, her sense of entitlement, her incompetence as secretary of State and her lack of forthrightness. None of those liabilities apply to Biden. The race would become a standard liberal vs. conservative match-up, one which Democrats could very well win.
For now, though, Clinton is not going anywhere and there is no sign Biden is preparing to jump in. Republicans would like to keep it that way.