A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by Liz Marlantes.

Biden stays above the pack – and aims fire at Trump

Why We Wrote This

By skipping a big Iowa cattle call, and visiting the state on his own a few days later, the former VP stays a step ahead of the overcrowded field.

Charlie Neibergall/AP
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to local residents at Clinton Community College June 12, 2019, in Clinton, Iowa.

Dear reader:
  
 Former Vice President Joe Biden may be widely regarded by analysts and rivals as a “weak” frontrunner – but so far, he’s running a pretty savvy campaign.
  
 Over the weekend, Mr. Biden raised some eyebrows by opting to skip the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids, and instead attend his granddaughter’s high school graduation. “Joe Biden must really not like to travel,” jabbed Andrew Yang, one of Mr. Biden’s 2020 rivals (who is currently polling around 1%).
  
 In hindsight, it looks like a brilliant move. Media coverage of the dinner – at which each candidate was given just five minutes to make their pitch to party activists – was heavy on phrases like “circus ” and “clown car.”  
  
 By contrast, when Mr. Biden traveled to Iowa yesterday – where President Donald Trump also happened to be making an appearance – he was given extensive cable news coverage, much of it positive ( a clip  from MSNBC’s Morning Joe contrasted Mr. Biden’s treatment of a protestor – inviting him to have a private audience after the event – with President Trump’s). And as the former vice president and the president traded barbs, it all worked to reinforce an image of Mr. Biden as in a category of his own, apart from the rest of the Democratic field.  
  
 Of course, he may still be a weak frontrunner. Polling shows that the Democrats backing Mr. Biden are less enthusiastic than other candidates’ supporters. His numbers have slipped some in Iowa. As Paul Waldman recently wrote  in The American Prospect, the 2020 race has a similar feel to 2004, when Democrats settled on the most “electable” candidate – John Kerry – who didn’t spark much passion in the base, and who ultimately lost to President George W. Bush.
  
 On the other hand, a new Quinnipiac University poll  this week shows Mr. Biden beating President Trump in a head to head matchup by 13 points – a spread the pollster characterized as “landslide proportions.” The key group in that poll: independents, who broke for Mr. Biden over President Trump 58 to 28 percent.
  
 Who knows, maybe Mr. Biden should consider skipping the upcoming Democratic debates?
  
 Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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