By Michael Catalini
May 3, 2013
There’s nothing like a trip to South Carolina to fuel a conversation about political ambitions.
Vice President Joe Biden, who’ll speak at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner for Palmetto State Democrats tonight, earned a battery of such coverage. An influential vice president who has brokered budget deals in Congress and shepherded high-visibility issues, Biden shares top billing among potential 2016 Democratic candidates in a number of polls.
The obstacles blocking the possibility of a Biden presidency are numerous, and include the fact that he would be older than any other newly-elected president. Hillary Clinton could run and clear the field. The Democratic coalition has changed since President Obama's election, leaving Biden behind. He’s run twice before, dropping out both times. And just how bad will the gaffes get? Biden said he plans to pursue gun control legislation again, even though he hasn't reportedly talked to President Obama about his plans. It was an episode reminiscent of Biden's coming out in favor of gay marriage before the president.
Here’s a look at five biggest roadblocks facing a possible Biden campaign.
Biden will be 73 in 2016. He’ll turn 74 12 days after Election Day, which would make him the oldest newly elected president to take the oath of office if he were to win in 2016. Reporters have described Biden as “spry,”“smiling,” and “jolly,” in articles about his age as a way of suggesting he could handle the rigors of office. This is not a new issue for voters to grapple with. In 2008, when the prospect of John McCain swearing the oath of office at 72 was a real possibility, nearly half of Americans surveyed in a CNN/ORC poll saw age as a factor. Forty-seven percent worried McCain wouldn’t finish his first term.
The Hillary roadblock.
One very real obstacle stands in the way of a potential Biden campaign: Hillary Rodham Clinton. She is very popular among Democratic voters, so much so that she leads a field of Democrats with 65 percent supporting her, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released this week. Biden is the next closest potential competitor, but lagging far behind 13 percent. She's got institutional advantages: A super PAC, Ready for Hillary, is already working on her behalf. This week EMILY’s List launched a campaign to elect a woman as president. We do not know if Hillary is going to run, but we are hopeful that she will,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said.
There are countless articles, YouTube channels and even a “Gaffe-o-Meter” that track the missteps and mistakes the vice president has made on a fairly regular basis. An archival Nexis search for “Joe Biden” and “gaffe” produces 20 results—and that’s just for the previous week. This week, Biden told a group of law enforcement officials that he plans to pursue gun control further—without having talked to the president yet. He also took credit for wining the support of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu on the issue, asPolitico reported, something she probably didn't want to hear.
During the presidential campaign last year, Biden criticized his Republican rival Paul Ryan for wanting to raise taxes, wondering incredulous why the GOP would want to raise taxes on the middle class when it had “been buried the last four years.” Or there was the time he came out in favor of gay marriage before President Obama. But the vice president has also touched on race and sex in his public comments. He told an audience the included a number of black Americans that his political rivals’ policies would “put y’all back in chains.” Heonce told a group attending a Teacher of the Year event at the Naval Observatory that he’d “been sleeping with a teacher for a long time. But it’s always been the same teacher,” he said. Biden’s wife, Jill, is a teacher. (Whether that's endearing or not, you be the judge.)
An old-school Democrat out of place in a new coalition.
Obama won two presidential election on the heels of strong support and high turnout from the rising American electorate -- minorities, younger voters, and single women. That’s a phenomenon that my colleague Ron Brownstein is documenting extensively. The coalition’s characteristics contrast sharply with those belonging to the kinds of voters Biden connects with. Biden’s appeal is greater with whites without college education. A WMUR Granite State poll from last month showed that likely Democratic primary voters with high school educations or less supported Biden more than voters with college or postgraduate degrees. Biden’s support was also stronger with self-described moderates in conservatives than with liberals, which suggests he could struggle in a Democratic primary.
Third time's a charm?
Biden has gone down the presidential path twice before. He ran and lost in 1988, dropping out after newspapers reported he used parts of British politician Neil Kinnock’s words without attribution. In 2008, Biden bailed on his bid after getting nine-tenths of a percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus.
By Michael Catalini
May 3, 2013