Why Joe Biden is Still Winning | Opinion

With his recent presidential announcement, former VP Joe Biden has bounded out of the pack to a commanding lead in the Democratic presidential nomination. One survey has him with over 40% support against a field of 22 other candidates. This has been surprising since the book on Biden was that he was too white, too male and too old to appeal to the Democratic Party circa 2020. With suitable apologies to my Democratic friends for meddling in their party's affairs, here are at least four reasons why Biden is doing so well and why he may have staying power as the nomination contest moves forward.

He can win: Biden runs strongest of anyone against President Trump. He wins national surveys, but for fans of the electoral college, he wins there too. Surveys have him winning Arizona, Pennsylvania and Michigan. He is competitive against the president in North Carolina and surprisingly Texas. Some of this is name ID, but he seems a far better candidate than, say, Bernie Sanders to win important battleground states. Early indications are that he does well in all demographic categories, including women and minorities. Democratic primary voters say their number one goal is to defeat the president, and Biden is doing that.

He has moderates to himself: It is true that a majority of Democrats consider themselves liberal/progressive, but a sizable minority call themselves moderates and right now Biden has them to himself. All of the other major candidates have styled themselves as progressives, thus splintering the party's dominant wing. Biden only needs a share of progressives, not a majority. Indeed, it could make sense to distance himself from some of the more irredeemable activists (Think Bill Clinton and Sister Souljah.) This is not unlike Republican nominations when center-right candidates (Bush, McCain, Romney) won party moderates and a share of the dominant conservative vote. Unless another moderate, like as Colorado's Michael Bennett, can make a charge, Biden will continue to win these voters.

He has Obama legacy: Even though there are now 22 announced Democratic candidates, only Biden has had a close working relationship with our 44th president. More surprising, none have sought to lay claim as his intellectual or rightful heir. If anything, leading candidates Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have gone out of their way to criticize the former president for not being bolder in his initiatives. This ignores the fact that Obama is very popular with Democratic primary voters and is the most liberal/progressive president ever. Again, looking to the Republicans, Republican candidates until 2016 went out of their way to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan, the gold standard for GOP nominees for 30 years. Biden doesn't need (or apparently want) Obama's endorsement now, but he can associate himself with many things during the Obama years that validate progressive Democrats' view of recent history—Obamacare, recovery from the 08 economic meltdown, climate change initiatives, and gay rights.

He represents normalcy: One hurdle facing all non-incumbents that only Biden has overcome is crossing the barrier of believability—the voting public can actually see him as president. For this purpose, what was thought to be a weakness is actually a strength, namely his extraordinarily long record of service in the federal government. He is certainly not the newest or shiniest political object, but he is serious, dependable and fully capable of serving as chief executive. For those voters looking for a return to normalcy, less drama and fewer food fights, right now Biden is the preferred candidate.

To be sure, there is a very long way to go. This is the time for polls (many cited here,) sound bites, fundraising and wooing of political interest groups. Lee Atwater once referred to this time as the "invisible primary," the time between candidates' announcements and the casting of primary votes. Past invisible primary winners have a mixed record of electoral success.

Lots of things can still happen. Biden's loquaciousness can easily trip him up.Progressive impulses among Democrats could overwhelm him. Anita Hill is still angry. The gauntlet of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina remains. The Democrats' penchant for focusing on someone new and different (and not male and white) remains strong. To update advice I once received from a wise hand, "If Biden were going to be president, he would be by now."

But at least for the present, the practitioner of very traditional coalition politics has established himself as the one to beat in the first quarter mile of this very long horse race.

Frank Donatelli served as assistant for political affairs to President Reagan and as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain. He is a senior advisor in the federal public affairs group at McGuireWoods Consulting LLC in Washington.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

Why Joe Biden is Still Winning | Opinion | Opinion