- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2019

UNIONTOWN, Pa. — Retired teacher and lifelong Democrat Kathy C. did not vote in the 2016 presidential election because she did not like any of the choices on the ballot.

Though her protest helped send Donald Trump to the White House, she said she will sit out the election again in 2020 if former Vice President Joseph R. Biden is her party’s nominee.

“Mr. Biden I respect, but I think he’s too old,” said Kathy, 72, who didn’t want to give her full name because she feared reprisals from fellow Democrats. “We need some new ideas, maybe a different approach in Washington.”

Mr. Biden, 76, is expected to enter the race next month as the front-runner in a crowded field of Democrats. But the thinking of voters like Kathy is a reason to second-guess Mr. Biden’s advantages in a matchup against Mr. Trump.

“The biggest fear I believe for Democrats is that Biden fails to energize enough progressive voters in Philly and the Southeast and that lower turnout out there opens the door for a repeat of 2016,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

He raised the question despite calling Mr. Biden a “natural fit” for a general election in the 2020 battleground of Pennsylvania.

Concerns about his age and his alignment with the party’s far-left base have blunted some of the enthusiasm for Mr. Biden’s run.

The Keystone State, which in 2016 voted for a Republican president for the first time in 28 years, was the linchpin of Mr. Trump’s Rust Belt strategy that secured his upset victory.

The state is poised to make or break Mr. Trump in 2020. While Mr. Trump’s victory was historic, it also was narrow. He won by a mere 44,292 votes out of more than 6 million cast.

There is no evidence that Mr. Trump has expanded his base in Pennsylvania, leaving him vulnerable to the erosion of support most presidents experience in their re-election races and the fierce anti-Trump sentiment among Democratic voters.

Since Mr. Trump took office, his net approval in Pennsylvania has dropped by 17 percentage points, according to polling by Morning Consult.

The Democratic Party will pour money and manpower into Pennsylvania to put the state back in its column in 2020.

The same dynamic is at work in Wisconsin and Michigan, the other Rust Belt states that Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016.

Biden skeptics are not just in Pennsylvania.

Laura Hubka, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Howard County, Iowa, said the enthusiasm for Mr. Biden is limited to some of the same party establishment who backed Mrs. Clinton — what she calls the “party standards.”

Biden has tried twice already and was rejected. I have heard a lot of that sentiment up here. There are a few ‘party standards’ that like him, but I don’t feel [or] see a lot of excitement about him,” she said.

Mr. Biden over the weekend addressed concerns that he hasn’t kept pace with the party’s leftward shift when he let slip his plans to run.

“I know I get criticized and told I get criticized by the new left,” he said at a Democratic dinner in Dover, Delaware. “I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United States — anybody who would run.”

The slip, which Mr. Biden emphasized by making the Catholic sign of the cross, garnered more media attention than his defense of his progressiveness.

Mr. Biden failed in his 1988 and 2008 runs for the Democratic presidential nomination. He served 36 years as a senator from Delaware before Barack Obama tapped him for vice president.

His ties to Mr. Obama remain a chief argument for his candidacy. Some Democratic insiders say it’s enough to garner support from black voters even though Mr. Biden is an older white man.

Other perceived advantages for Mr. Biden are his roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and his regular-guy persona that connects with blue-collar voters.

“He can speak to working-class Americans all over the country, not just in Pennsylvania, in rural and urban centers. It is the same message to everyone who is struggling in the Trump economy,” said Democratic strategist Jennifer C. Holdsworth.

She expects Mr. Biden to clinch the Democratic nomination and dismissed doubts about his progressive bona fides.

“The only reticence is some members of the party toward him want to see a new generation of leadership enter the conversation. But as you can see from all the Democrats who announced so far, we are certainly showing our thought leadership and our ideas bench and our young leaders bench, and I’m very excited that they are all part of the conversation,” she said. “But a lot of these ideas have derived from work that Joe Biden has done over the last 30 years, including when he served as President Obama’s vice president.”

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