Joe Biden may be in more trouble than you think
Posted February 5, 2020 2:58 p.m. EST
CNN — Joe Biden spent eight years as Barack Obama's vice president. And almost four decades in the Senate before that. From the day he entered the 2020 presidential race last spring, he has been the front-runner.
And front-runners don't finish fourth.
Unfortunately for Biden, that's exactly where he is in Iowa, with 75% of precincts reporting in the Iowa caucuses. At the moment, in fact, he is closer to fifth-place Amy Klobuchar than he is to third-place Elizabeth Warren when it comes to state delegate allocations.
"I'm not gonna sugarcoat it," Biden said on Wednesday in New Hampshire. "We took a gut punch in Iowa. The whole process took a gut punch. But look, this isn't the first time in my life I've been knocked down."
Fair enough. Biden is absolutely right that this is a long process, and with the number of candidates still in the Democratic race, no one performance -- no matter how disappointing -- will doom him. It is also true that the delay in the reporting of the Iowa caucus results -- still just at 75% of precincts reporting as of Wednesday afternoon -- softens the blow of Biden's underperformance somewhat.
But this reality remains: Joe Biden, national front-runner, is likely to finish out of the top three in the first vote of the 2020 primary.
As does this reality: In three presidential bids over three different decades, Joe Biden has never won a caucus or a primary. Not one.
Which brings us to Biden's current predicament. He has long based his appeal on two factors:
1) He is the most electable candidate
2) He is running far ahead among black voters -- particularly in South Carolina.
Let's tackle the first idea, uh, first.
Electability has always been a tough concept. After all, Donald Trump was, by any traditional measure, the least electable candidate in the 2016 Republican field. But he won the nomination. And then the presidency.
Given that, electability seems to me to be based in your ability to, you know, win -- whether in a primary, a caucus or a general election. Biden just has never done that in the context of a presidential race. And he didn't even come close in Iowa.
Now to that second point. It is true, as of today, that Biden retains a considerable lead among black voters -- especially in South Carolina, which is set to hold the fourth presidential vote on February 29. (Sidebar: Happy Leap Year!) What remains to be seen is if, in the wake of his disappointing showing in Iowa, those black voters -- in South Carolina and nationally -- will begin to peel off of Biden in search of a candidate who looks more like a winner.
What there's no doubt about, amid all of this speculation, is that Biden needs a Top 2 finish (and maybe a straight-up win) in New Hampshire. "I'd like you to rocket me out of here to make sure this thing works, OK?" Biden told a New Hampshire crowd on Wednesday.
The raising of stakes for Biden in New Hampshire were also clear in his willingness to go directly at the two men that look likely to finish first and second in Iowa: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. Of Buttigieg, Biden asked: "Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure?" And Biden suggested that nominating Sanders would imperil Democrats across the country, up and down the ballot; "If Sen. Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America up and down the ballot, in blue states, red states, purple states, in easy districts and competitive ones, every Democrat will have to carry the label Sen. Sanders has chosen for himself," Biden said. "He calls him --- and I don't criticize him -- he calls himself a democratic socialist. Well, we're already seeing what Donald Trump is gonna do with that."
Biden and his campaign continue to insist to anyone who will listen that they are in this for the long haul. But that's what every candidate says until they run out of money and support. If Biden finishes out of the top three again in New Hampshire, the calls for him to reconsider his candidacy will grow loud. He may not listen -- preferring to soldier on until his supposed South Carolina firewall -- but he won't be able to ignore them.