The Democratic elite is panicked about Joe Biden, but he's far more popular with voters than donors

Business Insider Politics 3 weeks ago

The Democratic donor class' collective panic over former Vice President Joe Biden's weakness in the 2020 field is driving possible last-minute entries into the Democratic field, but key constituencies of the Democratic Party still prefer Biden over the rest of the field.  

Last Thursday, a senior adviser to former three-term New York City Mayor and billionaire media mogul Michael Bloomberg confirmed that after initially ruling out a presidential run in March, Bloomberg had filed paperwork to run in the Alabama primary in anticipation of a possible last-minute, self-funded presidential run.

And on Monday night, The Times further reported that another businessman-turned moderate Democratic politician and close Obama ally was reaching out to party leaders about a potential late entrance into the race himself — former Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

Democratic elites are panicking over Biden's fundraising, and they want an alternative candidate for the moderate lane

Wealthy Democratic donors are extremely concerned over Biden's extremely lackluster fundraising and slipping poll performance, in contrast with the rise and massive grassroots fundraising of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two leading Democratic candidates who have both proposed hefty taxes on billionaires.

As of 2019's third fundraising quarter, Sanders, Warren, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg reported $33.7 million, $25.7 million, and $23.4 million in cash on hand, respectively, compared with just $8.9 million for Biden.

Recently, The Times reported that Buttigieg — one of the most impressive fundraisers of the 2020 Democratic primary — "has won over many former Obama-era ambassadors as a 37-year-old fresh face for the party."

Bradley Tusk, a former campaign manager for Michael Bloomberg who recently hosted a fundraiser for Buttigieg, told The Times that in attendance were "a lot of those people you would have thought would be Biden people," adding that "the feeling in the room" was "that Biden has already lost."

A new report in Bloomberg News further revealed the weaknesses of Biden's ground operation in Iowa, where he is able to invest fewer resources compared with his top rivals in those states. The report found that aside from Biden's money issues, his state director didn't live in the state full-time, and Iowa Democrats said Biden himself had acknowledged his campaign's ground game in the state had been lacking. 

"We now need to finish the job and ensure that Trump is defeated — but Mike is increasingly concerned that the current field of candidates is not well-positioned to do that," the Mike Bloomberg adviser Howard Wolfson told The Times and other outlets.

"If Mike runs, he would offer a new choice to Democrats built on a unique record running America's biggest city, building a business from scratch and taking on some of America's toughest challenges as a high-impact philanthropist."

Politico further reported that wealthy Democratic donors with ties to Wall Street see Patrick, a centrist African-American candidate with executive experience both in government and business, as a feasible replacement in the moderate lane from Biden. 

"This is coming from Wall Street. They're terrified of Warren. And these guys would help Biden. But they've been in a room with him up close and they have doubts," one Democratic donor anonymously told Politico. 

But believing that either Bloomberg or Patrick could swoop in and save the day is completely misaligned with what Democratic voters actually want. 

Biden has a unique appeal that can't be replicated by swapping him out with an ideologically similar candidate 

While Biden's fundraising is straggling and his on-the-ground organizing presence is weak in both Iowa and New Hampshire, he's actually doing pretty well in national Democratic primary polling, despite the prevailing narrative that Biden's campaign is headed for disaster.

Biden maintains an average of 27% in Real Clear Politics' average of Democratic primary polls, 32% in Morning Consult's weekly survey of Democratic primary voters, and leading a recent Quinnipiac University poll of New Hampshire. The former vice president also has several key advantages — that none of the other candidates in the race can claim — that make it exceedingly difficult to knock him off his perch.

He holds a commanding lead among two demographic groups critical to any winning Democratic coalition: voters over the age of 65 and African-American voters, especially black voters without a college degree — which has persisted throughout the election cycle so far.

Biden's strong support among black voters is due to a number of overlapping factors, including his close relationships in the community he's cultivated during his decades in public life, and the fact that African-American voters tend to both be more ideologically moderate than white ones and more pragmatic in their voting behavior. 

Despite Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg's rise in the polls and stellar fundraising, none of them have managed to make a sizeable dent in Biden's lead among those two groups. 

According to the Economist's aggregated tracker of Democratic primary polls, Biden leads the field by far with 30% support among Hispanic voters and those without a college degree, above 40% support among African-Americans and voters above 65, and 50% with non-college-educated black voters. 

While black voters and the other groups who make up Biden's base are more moderate and conservative than the Democratic electorate as a whole, ideologically similar candidates can't be simply swapped out for each other and all draw from the exact same base. 

Black voters are not just largely moderate, but they also prioritize nominating a candidate who they believe can defeat President Donald Trump far more than nominating a candidate who exactly aligns with their policy positions. This is an area where Biden has a huge advantage, and helps explain why the other moderates in the field like Buttigieg haven't been able to significantly challenge Biden's lead among voters of color. 

As Marquette University political scientist Julia Azari pointed out on Saturday, "winning a presidential election requires mobilizing a strategically located coalition, not seducing the median voter with your blandness."

Bloomberg, for his part, had a tense and fractured relationship with communities of color during his time as mayor over his support for the NYPD's controversial "stop and frisk" policing policy, which disproportionately targeted New Yorkers of color, and his continued opposition to marijuana legalization, which he denounced as "stupid" in January of this year. 

It's even harder to see how Patrick – who has even lower national recognition than Bloomberg and does not have his $52 billion in wealth — could launch a successful bid this late in the game and make a dent in Biden's dominance among black and working-class voters.

After leaving the governor's office in 2015, Patrick largely retreated from the public eye and went back to his career in the private sector at the private equity firm Bain Capital instead of being visibly involved in politics, meaning he would have even more ground to make up.

Patrick has already missed the filing deadlines for the Alabama and Arkansas Democratic primaries, which Bloomberg has met. The deadline to file for the New Hampshire primary is this Friday. 

As election analyst and FiveThirtyEight editor in chief Nate Silver bluntly put it on Monday, "the people who seem to think the D field stinks (i.e. rich donors) tend to be the sorts of people who have poor instincts about politics and are very often wrong about things......and the relatively implausible paths for the candidates they're considering are proof of those poor instincts."

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