The latest batch of Quinnipiac University purple state polls fell like a cartoon anvil landing squarely on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. As the Post's Jenna Portnoy pointed out this morning, Clinton trailed Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) in Iowa, Colorado, and Virginia. Theoretically, a Democrat could win the presidency without those states -- now-Secretary of State John Kerry nearly did in 2004 -- but the Clinton swoon led to another bout of a contagious pundit malady.
That would be Bidenmania. On CNN, Chris Cuomo and Jeff Zeleny took turns asking whether Vice President Joe Biden would be tempted to enter the race. Yes, based on one poll. And yes, after a week of pundit assurances that it was much too early to read anything in polls showing Donald Trump's surge to the front of the Republican race. On Twitter, Bidenmania took both earnest and snarky forms.
To me this is the opening for Biden '16, https://t.co/jwPTtNeGeG
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) July 22, 2015
— Andrew Stiles (@AndrewStilesUSA) July 22, 2015
Dick Harpootlian, the former South Carolina Democratic Party chairman who has become Biden's biggest public booster, told the Washington Post that the Quinnipiac polls proved everything he had been saying. "The polling data shows that Hillary Clinton is not the candidate for 2016," he said. "It’s not just about viability for Joe Biden. It's about her serious vulnerability. I don’t believe she carries Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, or many other states that Democrats need. That's further evidence that Joe Biden should get into the race."
There's just one problem, rarely mentioned. The vice president polls substantially worse against Republicans than Clinton does. That's been the case for years -- just as Biden has consistently scored lower favorability numbers than President Barack Obama. In fact, according to HuffPost Pollster's averages, Biden has only crept into the favorable zone for a few months of his vice presidency, after the 2012 election. When one of those polls showed Biden's numbers surpass the president's, it was news.
Even as it sparked a fresh Bidenmania outbreak, Quinnipiac University's poll provided more evidence of the vice president's problem. In every one of the Colorado/Iowa/Virginia match-ups, Biden polls worse than Clinton does. Colorado is the cruelest state, a place where the voters who prefer Rubio over Clinton by 8 points prefer Rubio over Biden by 14 points. In Virginia, where Clinton trails by the margin of error, Biden trails every Republican just outside the margin of error. Iowa? Oh, Iowa's even worse.
What explains this? How can Joe Biden, the avuncular Irish-American pol whose antics have become inspirations for The Onion and Saturday Night Live, not be popular? How could the death of his son Beau cause such an outpouring of public grief, while that same public resists him as a presidential candidate? Joe Biden? "Uncle Joe"? The man even Republican senators admit to liking?
Unfortunately for Biden, most voters are not Republican senators. The public's view of Biden is locked into his image as an over-eager gaffe generator. A Google search for the term "gaffe-prone" turns up Biden, immediately. He has been accused of insensitivity to Indian-Americans, to African-Americans, to women, to Asians, to women specifically in range of his massage fingers. In 2009, when Newsweek (then owned by the Washington Post company) gave a flattering cover story to Biden, it was packaged as "Why Joe is No Joke." Much as saying "don't think of an elephant" inspires a person to think of an elephant, telling them that something is not a joke sends them pondering about what a joke it is.
That's not all: Biden also has a few more-serious, less-obvious problems. One reason for his typical lag behind Obama is that the president consistently scores historic high approval ratings with black voters. Clinton has a more marginal advantage over Biden when it comes to female voters. It has been 19 years since Democrats won a presidential election with a white male candidate. As the party found in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, the shift of white working class voters to the GOP has made it harder to win elections unless they're motivating every other type of voter. Biden has not proven that he can.
The brightest spot for Biden in these polls is actually a Clinton weakness. After months of coverage dedicated to her family's foundations and to her private State-era e-mail server, fewer voters say that she "cares about people like you."
"I think it’s just that the vice president appeals to everyone across the board," said Will Pierce, the executive director of the unsanctioned Draft Biden 2016 campaign. "He’s an everyday man that they can relate to."
Still, there's the matter of every other poll number. "We don’t think the polls are wrong," suggested Pierce, "but he hasn’t gotten into the race."
Pierce was confident that Biden was win back wayward voters if they got to see him run for president again. Harpootlian was even more confident.
"I think polling data these days is inherently flawed," said Harpootlian. "Ask Eric Cantor or Mark Warner. You've gotta ask: What is the sample? Who'd they talk to? My gut tells me that if Biden steps up and reminds people of what he’s done, he would carry these states."
Right now, it's Dick Harpootlian's gut versus everything else.