Biden didn’t rush into 2020 race; now his strategy may have backfired
said last month that he regrets that “he couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved” – a reference that seemed to play down his powerful role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Hill testified at Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing in 1991 that Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Biden has also done little to reach out to feminist leaders before entering a campaign in which his mixed record on abortion rights is sure to be an issue. He has not contacted Ilyse Hogue, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, or Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood, according to Democratic officials.
He has said publicly that he wants a campaign that reflects the country, but his inner circle remains largely white and male, and some of his overtures to next-generation Democratic strategists have fallen flat or petered out, several people briefed on the efforts said.
Karine Jean-Pierre, a top official with the liberal group MoveOn, met privately with Biden but elected not to pursue a campaign job. Biden advisers sought to hire Tara McGowan, a highly regarded Democratic digital strategist, and Emmy Ruiz, an operative who managed several Western states for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Neither signed on, and Ruiz now works for Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. (All three women declined to comment or did not respond to requests.)
Many Democrats also expected Larry Grisolano, another veteran of Obama’s campaigns, to take a senior role in Biden’s organization, but this year Grisolano declined.
It is not clear how strongly Biden might be able to rely on other members of Obama’s political network, many of whom have gravitated toward newer candidates like Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas. (Obama himself has been tight-lipped during his former running mate’s difficult week; a spokesman for the former president declined to comment while noting that Obama had praised Biden warmly in recent months.)
And Biden has done little self-vetting of his legislative record because he has not hired a research director.
Patti Solis Doyle, who managed Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, said Biden had already sacrificed some of his political strength by waiting so long. She said Biden remained formidable, but urged him to enter the race soon and initiate a “bigger, more thoughtful conversation about how men of power interact with women with not so much power.”
“I think he can look at this as an opportunity, and I wish he would,” Solis Doyle said.
As he demonstrated on Friday with his joking references to giving hugs and his impromptu press availability, there is only so much his aides can do to contain Biden. His reliance on his own instincts has been legendary for decades, since his turbulent 1988 campaign chronicled in the classic political book “What It Takes.”
But it’s unclear whether Biden’s instincts will be enough to navigate his party’s shifting center of gravity. After declaring at a Democratic fundraising dinner in Delaware last month that he would be “the most progressive candidate” in the race, Biden clarified on Friday that he meant his positions on issues like race and LGBT rights – not, as he put it, on the question: “Are you a socialist?”
Quieting aides who sought to cut short his session with reporters, he argued that the “party has not moved” and said “the vast majority of the members of the Democratic Party are still basically liberal to moderate Democrats in the traditional sense.”
Some of Biden’s longtime friends, who winced at his boast in Delaware, urged him to campaign as the center-left Democrat he has always been.
“You can’t try to out-progressive the field, you’ve got to be who you are,” said William Daley, the moderate former White House chief of staff who lost a race for mayor of Chicago this year.
John Morgan, a prominent Florida trial lawyer who raises money for Democrats, said he believed Biden’s authenticity would still connect powerfully with voters. Biden’s “only sin,” he said, “is he loved people.”
But, Morgan added, it was past time for Biden to make a decision about the race.
“There are two ways to get in a cold pool,” he said, “toe by toe, or take a tequila shot and do a cannonball.”