Uneasy Democrats still hope for a white knight to save them from Biden, Warren or Sanders

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race with one key takeaway every weekday and a wrap-up each weekend. Reminder: There are 105 days until the Iowa caucuses and 379 days until the 2020 election.

Despite a wave of attacks from the Trump White House, former Vice President Joe Biden’s national polling average is holding steady. Although Sen. Elizabeth Warren has gained ground on him over the course of the year, a series of polls taken after the most recent debate have been positive for Biden, including a CNN survey released Wednesday morning that showed him with his widest lead among Democratic voters since shortly after he entered the race in April: 34 percent to 19 percent for Warren and 16 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders.

That hasn’t stopped establishment Democrats from worrying about his campaign or the party’s chances against Donald Trump in 2020 with either Biden or one of the runner-ups, the two most liberal candidates in the race, as the likely standard bearer.

“They don’t have anybody who can win the general [election],” donor Jack Coale complained to the Washington Post in a story published Tuesday titled “Anxiety rises among Democrats worried about party’s prospects in 2020.”

“Since the last debate, just anecdotally, I’ve had five or six people ask me: ‘Is there anybody else?’” Leah Daughtry, a longtime Democrat who has run two of the party’s recent conventions, told the New York Times in another story about the “anxious Democratic establishment.”

Why are Democrats anxious, apart from the fact that, as some of those interviewed pointed out, it is their natural state? A major factor is Biden’s fundraising. In filings last week, it was revealed that his campaign has just $8.9 million cash on hand. In comparison, Sanders has $33.7 million, Warren has $25.7 million and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has $23.4 million.

Biden also has a more limited donor pool, as just 38 percent of the $22 million he raised in the first half of the year came from donations of $200 or less. That’s in comparison to 77 percent small donors for Sanders and 67 percent for Warren. Donors are allowed to give only $2,800 to each primary candidate, meaning donors who give in smaller amounts can give again, while candidates whose supporters max out early might face trouble later.

Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Oprah Winfrey (Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Getty Images)

There’s also Biden’s generally lackluster debate performances and his propensity to commit verbal blunders, which haven’t inspired confidence in how he would handle a brutal campaign against Trump. While his national polling is strong, he’s slipping in the first three states to vote, essentially tied with Warren in Iowa, trailing her in New Hampshire and locked in a three-way race with both Warren and Sanders in Nevada. Biden’s South Carolina firewall remains strong, but questions remain of how it would hold up if he is coming off three straight defeats. There was also a HuffPost/YouGov poll released Tuesday that found 25 percent of Democrats would be upset if Biden won the nomination, versus 9 percent for Warren and 19 for Sanders.

“With Trump looming, there is genuine concern that the horse many have bet on may be pulling up lame, and the horse who has sprinted out front may not be able to win,” said David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser, discussing Biden’s arc.

Part of the establishment’s problem is that Sen. Kamala Harris, whose campaign staff contains a number of 2016 Clinton alumni, has tumbled in the polls, unable to climb out of single digits both nationally or in her native California. Buttigieg is polling well in Iowa and has plenty of cash, but there are concerns about his ability to appeal to nonwhite voters, as he has polled at zero among African-Americans in surveys of South Carolina. Following the most recent debate, the media has turned some of its focus on Sen. Amy Klobuchar — including headlines like “In Iowa, Amy Klobuchar Gets a Second Look After Debate,” “‘It sure feels like Buttigieg and Klobuchar have wind in their sails’” and “Amy Klobuchar says she’s catching on at exactly the right time” — but she has yet to clear 3 percent in any postdebate poll.

So, influential Democratic officials and donors are embarking on a slightly panicky search for additional options, looking in such unlikely places as the party’s rich supply of unsuccessful past nominees, including John Kerry and even Hillary Clinton. Kerry’s associates told the Times that the 2004 nominee has “wondered aloud about whether he should have run and has found it hard to watch Mr. Biden’s missteps.” Clinton recently inserted herself into the race by suggesting Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii could be a Russian asset, and the Post said two people close to the 2016 nominee said she “has not ruled out jumping in herself.”

“Her view is: I ran against this guy, I know how to do this,” a person close to Clinton told the Post. “She has battle scars to prove it.”

The flaw in that argument is all too obvious to many in the party: “This guy” ran against her in 2016 — and won.

Then there are the relatively unscarred ranks of former mayors, governors, Cabinet members and figures from outside politics. Per the Post, Oprah Winfrey has turned from her early support of former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and is now urging Disney CEO Bob Iger to enter the race. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who strongly considered a 2020 run, told the Times that he’s hearing from a “broad range of people” urging him to get into the race. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Attorney General Eric Holder and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick have also considered running.

Both the Post and Times stories contain multiple quotes from party insiders stating that Warren and Sanders are too far left to win a general election, citing their support of Medicare for All, although a poll this month from the Kaiser Family Foundation found backing for “a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan” at 51 percent. Nearly every head-to-head poll shows them comfortably ahead of Trump. In the recent CNN survey where Biden excelled, he led Trump by 10 points in a head-to-head matchup, but Sanders and Warren were just behind him at 9 and 8 points ahead, respectively, with Buttigieg up by 6. One of their primary policy proposals — a wealth tax on the richest Americans — also polls very wellincluding among Republicans. Establishment Democrats quoted in the story — who by and large have made the existing social and economic system work for them — seem less inclined than Democratic voters at large, or the American people, to see the need for the kind of massive structural change promoted by Warren and Sanders.


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