- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2019

He leads in the polls of likely Democratic primary voters nationally, but activists and analysts still aren’t certain there’s room for a Joseph R. Biden presidential candidacy in 2020.

The former vice president has been mostly silent about his intentions, with the only suggestion of interest coming in rumors he’s made overtures to key people in early primary states.

The 76-year-old also seems aware his deal-making history is out of touch with the confrontational approach Democratic activists want to see from their standard-bearers heading into next year.

“I get in trouble,” Mr. Biden told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington on Thursday. “I read in The New York Times today that one of my problems is, if I ever were to run for president, I like Republicans. Well, bless me Father, for I have sinned. Where I come from, I don’t know how you get anything done until we start talking to one another again.”

The New York Times reported that Mr. Biden was paid $200,000 for a speech he delivered last fall, weeks out from the midterm elections, in which he showered Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan with praise for the role he played in advancing legislation to fight cancer.

Mr. Biden’s good-natured explanation on Thursday drew hearty laughs from the bipartisan audience of mayors, but talking about consensus with Republicans is likely to land like a lead balloon in a Democratic primary.

Activists this year view the presidential race as a chance to prove that the party’s center of gravity has shifted to the left and see 2020 as a time to nominate a warrior for liberal causes who will do everything in his or her power to thwart the Trump agenda.

“Trotting out old warhorses has been a failing strategy everywhere,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is gung-ho about Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who launched an exploratory committee this month.

Mr. Biden believes he could have defeated President Trump in 2016, but the then-vice president decided against running after his son, Beau, died of brain cancer.

He first ran for president in 1988, but things unraveled early after he got caught up in a plagiarism scandal. In his 2008 bid, he failed to gain traction running against then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Green said Mr. Biden remains admired as a “great vice president” and for the role he played in history over the 40-plus years he spent between the Senate and The White House.

Experience, though, also comes with baggage, Mr. Green said, noting that parts of the Biden record of public service have not aged well in the eyes of grass-roots voters who are in search of a nominee who can defeat Mr. Trump and has unabashedly championed liberal progressive ideas.

Still, Mr. Biden consistently leads polls of likely Democratic primary voters.

A Harvard-Harris Poll this week put him at 24 percent support, well above second-place finisher Sen. Bernard Sanders. In head-to-head matchups with Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden also runs the strongest, besting him 53-41, according to a survey from the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling.

But political observers and activists openly wonder how that would translate in a primary campaign.

“I am a little skeptical of how deep the reservoir of affinity will amount to be if he runs,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. “It is one thing to have affection or nostalgia [for Mr. Biden], and it is another thing if he is in the ring.”

Former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who served as former Vice President Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, was the national poll front-runner for Democrats’ nomination in the run-up to 2004 but faced similar complaints about being too centrist.

“If I was Joe Biden, I would certainly wait, see how the field develops, and only jump in if it looked like a catastrophe in July or August,” Mr. Green said.

The field has started to come into focus, with a number of prominent women — including three senators, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala D. Harris — taking steps to run.

For the most part, though, it’s been “radio silence” from the Biden camp.

Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic strategist, said the big exception came this week when he heard through the grapevine that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who served as secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration, was told Mr. Biden would be ringing him sometime soon.

Mr. Vilsack did not respond to an email seeking comment, and a Biden spokesperson declined the chance to shed more light on his plans.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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