Next week Joe Biden will formally accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. And, if historian Allan Lichtman, who’s model has correctly picked every election since 1984 is right, there’s a very good chance that on November 3 (or shortly thereafter) he’ll be elected the 46th president of the United States.
Now, I’ve been involved in national politics for too many years to be hoodwinked into to assuming the outcome of an election before the final votes are counted, no matter what the pre-election polls say.
But you’ve got to admit that Biden’s ascension is pretty astonishing.
Think back just five and a half months.
Biden was making his third run for the presidency. His first two campaigns had been disasters – in 1988 he didn’t make it to the starting gate and in 2008 he dropped out after winning 1 percent in the Iowa Caucus.
This year started out no different. He finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and a disappointingly weak second in Nevada. Biden was the candidate of the political center, and all of the political energy in the Democratic Party seemed on the left.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the darling of the left, the winner in New Hampshire and Nevada with a well-financed and well-organized campaign, was an overwhelming favorite to win the nomination. And, if Sanders faltered, Senator Elizabeth Warren, another left-leaning candidate with money, organization and enthusiasm, was poised to step in.
Biden’s campaign was, literally, hanging by a thread, lacking money, political organization and enthusiasm. He seemed to have so little going for him – except one thing: the content of his character.
In nearly half a century of public service as a U. S. Senator and Vice President, Joe Biden has demonstrated that he is an empathetic, smart, progressive, deeply religious man who will always do what he thinks is best for American people. His record is not perfect – no one’s is. He often makes verbal gaffs. He’s just a mensch – a good and decent man.
To me, that’s exactly what our country needs after nearly four years of Donald Trump in the White House.
But far more important than my view, it was enough to evoke solid support among African American voters, the key and loyal constituency in Democratic Party primaries. And, on February 26, when South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in the House, endorsed Biden in his state’s primary, the campaign turned on a dime.
Biden won South Carolina and nearly every other of the 40 plus states that followed in a rout. He quickly vanquished Sanders, Warren, and the rest of a high quality Democratic primary field.
Democratic primary voters clearly kept their eyes on the prize. Their first priority was to beat President Trump – and it’s clear they believed that Biden was the best positioned candidate to do that. They ignored the noise on social media and the ideological litmus tests.
Biden has held true to his progressive centrist beliefs, resisting pressure from the left to embrace measures like Medicare for All, the Green New Deal or, more recently, defunding the police. He never wavered in his support of President Obama, even when his primary opponents argued Obama didn’t go far enough on this issue or that.
Joe Biden showed in the primaries and since that he is a practical progressive, not a lefty. He’s always been that. He helped me found the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985. To paraphrase President Trump: he is what he is.
His primary performance showed the political center, much demeaned in an era of super polarized politics, remarkably resilient. He not only won the votes of African Americans and other hardcore Democrats, but he brought millions of swing voters particularly college educated suburban women, into the Democratic primaries.
Those suburban women, who strongly oppose President Trump, were key to the Democrats’ winning back the House of Representatives in 2018, and their votes could very well determine the outcome of the presidential election this year.
If that’s the case, and many lifetime Republicans, who feel politically homeless in a party totally dominated by Trump and his acolytes, vote Democratic this fall, Biden’s candidacy could go a long way toward pulling our country back together, toward re-establishing the practical center and diminishing polarization in our politics.
After Trump’s years of fomenting division, our country needs a leader who appeals to our best instincts, who believes in our national community again – that we’re all in this together, and that we can only achieve our individual destinies if we share a common commitment to our national destiny.
Our politics needs a fresh start. At 77, Joe Biden is the oldest candidate ever to seek the presidency. Ironically, our oldest candidate, could pave the way for that new beginning.
Al From is an adjunct professor at the Krieger School at Johns Hopkins University. He is founder of the Democratic Leadership Council and author of The New Democrats and the Return to Power, featured in the documentary film, Crashing the Party. He lives in Annapolis, Maryland.