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Now, finally, an official candidate, former vice president Joe Biden began to face advice, criticism and potential trouble as he navigates his way toward the Democratic presidential nomination.
Biden kicked off his campaign Thursday, with a well-received video on social media.
“America is coming back like we used to be. Ethical, straight, telling the truth, supporting our allies. All of those good things,” Biden told reporters Thursday.
Biden begins his campaign, according to public opinion polling, both as an early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, as well as the winner of a hypothetical matchup against incumbent, Republican Donald Trump.
One of the very first questions Biden had to face is why his friend, and former boss, President Barack Obama hasn’t endorsed Biden.
“I asked President Obama not to endorse me,” Biden said. “Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits.”
Other Democrats explained that that perception that if he wins the nomination, that Biden did so on his own would be important for Democratic unity after the nominating process. The idea is to neutralize any acrimony which existed in 2016 after it became apparent that the Democratic National Committee gamed the system in favor of ultimate nominee Hillary Clinton and against challenger Bernie Sanders.
Although Obama himself isn’t involved, now that he has announced Biden simultaneously will be just another candidate subject to political dynamics but also tied to a lot of Obama nostalgia, said Jen Palmieri, who worked in the Obama administration before joining the Clinton campaign in 2016.
“And I know that what the Biden team is worried about are these high expectations, and being the front runner particularly in the Democratic primary, the front runner doesn’t normally win, because the front runner is coming in usually artificially inflated,” she said. “There’s a lot of Obama nostalgia that’s behind this candidacy. Maybe this is a time that that works. That has never worked in the Democratic primary before.”
Another Obama veteran, former strategist David Axelrod, also offered advice: particularly to avoid getting drawn back to refight any of the battles Biden found himself in during his decades in Washington as a senator before becoming vice president.
“My advice would be to get to where we are today very, very quickly. As long as he’s living in the past, it’s going to be problematical for him,” Axelrod said. “So he needs to articulate where he would lead the country in the future and the values that he believes in and not get into sort of an apology tour for every vote he’s ever cast. And that’s going to be difficult.
“Look, his experience is a strength. It gives people some confidence that he can restore some ballast to Washington, but on the other hand, 45 years of comments and votes are a burden he will have to carry into this,” Alexrod added. “And if he gets caught in a perpetual cycle of explaining and apologizing, that’s going to be a problem for him going on — going forward.”
To that end, the nascent Biden campaign clearly wants to put a lid on a potentially nearly 30-year-old hornet’s nest: Biden’s leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee and his treatment of Anita Hill as she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
Asked about it on-air, all a Biden spokeswoman would say was, “So, I’m not going to get into their private discussions, but they have spoken.”
The on-air journalist tried to pin down the spokeswoman further but she returned to variations of the original statement.
Biden will face a unique position as a former vice president on stage when it comes time for debates among the Democratic contenders for the nomination, said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and currently CNN commentator.
“There’s going to be little bit of a stature gap, right, just naturally as a former vice president. How are you, as the other candidates, going to handle that and his level of experience? But also does he recognize he’s going to be accountable both for the unfinished business of the Obama presidency, as well as his own record from his time in the Senate?” Finney asked, rhetorically.
Despite the potential pitfalls that he faces, and the fact that Trump has has already tagged him with the nasty nickname “Sleepy Joe,” it seems like Biden is the opponent which frightens the Trump team the most.
“By all accounts, this is the candidate that they fear most because of his strength in places like Pennsylvania, which of course, he’s going to go to, places like Pittsburgh, places like Philadelphia,” said CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. “That was the key to Donald Trump’s success.”
Also, former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich admitted that, if Trump runs a poor campaign or the nation’s economy falters, that Biden “conceivably” could beat Trump on Election Day, 2020.