Bi­den well placed to be 2020 Demo­cratic nom­i­nee

Arab News - - OPINION - An­drew HAm­mond | Spe­ciAl to ArAb newS

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent has mul­ti­ple key ad­van­tages against his many ri­vals, de­spite po­ten­tially be­ing the old­est pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee in US his­tory.

FOR­MER US se­na­tor and vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said this week that “the jury is still out” as to whether he will run for the White House in 2020. Bi­den is the early fa­vorite to win his party's nom­i­na­tion, de­spite al­ready be­ing 75 years of age, in what could be the first ever clash of sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian can­di­dates in US his­tory, should Don­ald Trump seek re-elec­tion.

Although gen­eral elec­tion day re­mains more than two-and-a-half years away, Bi­den's com­ment is only the lat­est sign that the Demo­crat field is be­gin­ning to mo­bi­lize. In the event Bi­den de­cides to run, he will be a for­mi­da­ble can­di­date, but he po­ten­tially faces a sig­nif­i­cant field for his party's nom­i­na­tion.

Among the po­ten­tial other con­tenders for the Demo­crat crown are Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ka­mala Har­ris, El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Kirsten Gil­li­brand, Cory Booker, Tim Kaine and Amy Klobuchar. Out­side of the Se­nate, po­ten­tial run­ners in­clude New York Gov­er­nor An­drew Cuomo right through to ac­tress and TV celebrity Oprah Win­frey and Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg. While it is widely pre­sumed Hil­lary Clin­ton, the 2016 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, will not run again, she has not cat­e­gor­i­cally con­firmed this.

While the Demo­crat race is there­fore fluid, Bi­den (who would in 2020 be the old­est pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee in US his­tory) may yet emerge as the firm fa­vorite to be­come his party's stan­dard bearer. In part, this is be­cause the for­mer vice pres­i­dent's age would be at least par­tially neu­tral­ized by run­ning against Trump, who is only four years younger and who ap­pears less fit.

By nu­mer­ous bench­marks, Bi­den has mul­ti­ple key ad­van­tages against other Democrats — if his good health re­mains — de­spite his age. In Jan­uary, for in­stance, a poll of Demo­crat iden­ti­fiers found him the most pop­u­lar po­ten­tial 2020 can­di­date, with Sanders, Win­frey and War­ren be­hind him.

The past few decades of US po­lit­i­cal his­tory in­di­cates that the vic­tor in nom­i­na­tion con­tests for both ma­jor par­ties fre­quently leads na­tional polls of party iden­ti­fiers on the eve of the first pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion bal­lot, tra­di­tion­ally in Iowa, and also raises more cam­paign fi­nance than any other can­di­date in the 12 months prior to elec­tion year.

From 1980 to 2016, for in­stance, the even­tual nom­i­nee in around half the Demo­crat and Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion races con­tested (that is, in which there was more than one can­di­date) was the early fron­trun­ner by both of th­ese two mea­sures. This was true of Demo­crat Clin­ton in 2016; Ge­orge W. Bush, the Repub­li­can can­di­date in 2000; Al Gore, the Demo­crat nom­i­nee in 2000; Bob Dole, the Repub­li­can can­di­date in 1996; Bill Clin­ton, the Demo­crat nom­i­nee in 1992; Ge­orge H.W. Bush, the Repub­li­can can­di­date in 1988 and 1992; Wal­ter Mon­dale, the Demo­crat nom­i­nee in 1984; and Jimmy Carter, the Demo­crat can­di­date in 1980.

More­over, in at least four par­tial ex­cep­tions to this pat­tern, the even­tual pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee led the rest of the field on one of the two mea­sures. This was true of Repub­li­can Trump in 2016, Repub­li­can Mitt Rom­ney in 2012, Demo­crat Michael Dukakis in 1988, and Repub­li­can Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1980.

For in­stance, in the race for the 2016 Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, Trump led a ma­jor­ity of na­tional polls of Repub­li­can iden­ti­fiers from sum­mer 2015 into 2016. While Trump was not the lead­ing fundraiser from ex­ter­nal do­na­tions amongst the Repub­li­can field, he was well po­si­tioned on the money side of the ledger be­cause the bil­lion­aire self-fi­nanced much of his cam­paign be­fore be­com­ing the of­fi­cial Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in July 2016.

By con­trast, the 2012 Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion race saw Rom­ney as the lead­ing fundraiser. How­ever, he some­times trailed or was tied in na­tional polls of party iden­ti­fiers to Newt Gin­grich im­me­di­ately prior to the 2012 Iowa bal­lot.

On both the fundrais­ing and na­tional poll mea­sures, Bi­den (should he run) could be­come clear fa­vorite for the Democrats in 2020. In­deed, so much so that some other po­ten­tially first-class can­di­dates may de­cide not to even en­ter the race.

Pre­sum­ing Trump seeks re-elec­tion and wins the 2020 Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, which would be likely but by no means cer­tain, he could face a very tough Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion race against Bi­den or who­ever the even­tual Demo­crat nom­i­nee is. One of the key fac­tors that will in­flu­ence the lat­ter party's prospects of de­feat­ing the Repub­li­cans will be whether, and how quickly, it can unite around its own nom­i­nee given the po­ten­tially large amount of con­tenders.

Af­ter the pol­icy and per­sonal con­tro­ver­sies from Trump be­ing in the White House, many Demo­cratic op­er­a­tives will be keen to avoid a bruis­ing, in­tro­spec­tive and drawn-out con­test that ex­poses sig­nif­i­cant in­tra-party di­vi­sion to the na­tional elec­torate, as hap­pened in 2016. Then the con­test be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton and Sanders, in par­tic­u­lar, saw key dif­fer­ences open­ing up, which helped con­trib­ute to the party los­ing an elec­tion against Trump that was po­ten­tially winnable given the tight mar­gins of vic­tory for the now-pres­i­dent in mul­ti­ple states.

While the cir­cum­stances of 2020 will be dif­fer­ent from 2016, it is none­the­less the case that an­other di­vi­sive Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion con­test would prob­a­bly only ben­e­fit Trump if he is the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee again. In­deed, should Trump eas­ily emerge as the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in 2020, this may po­ten­tially prove a tip­ping point in an­other very tight gen­eral elec­tion con­test.

An­drew Ham­mond is an As­so­ciate at LSE IDEAS at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics.

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