Joseph R. Biden is wagering that his advantage in the crucial battle for suburban female voters will hold despite Tara Reade’s allegation of sexual assault and is even inviting those who believe his accuser to not vote for him.
It is a gamble for the former vice president, whose path to The White House likely hinges on winning the battle of the sexes.
“I would say that [suburban women] are a key demographic that he can’t afford to lose,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.
“Regarding the incident, he said it didn’t happen, but if there are future records that are unresolved that refute that, then he is going to have to do damage control, and suburban women are not the kind of demographic that you want to do damage control on.”
Ms. Reade said she was working as a junior Senate staffer for Mr. Biden in the early 1990s when he pinned her against a wall in the basement of the Capitol complex, shoved his hand up her skirt and penetrated her with his fingers.
Mr. Biden has denied the claim, but Ms. Reade has persisted and called on the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to drop out of the race and take a polygraph test to prove who is telling the truth.
Ms. Reade’s claim and credibility are facing a new degree of skepticism after a report from “PBS Newshour” based on interviews with 74 current and former Biden staffers, including over 60 women.
No one interviewed said they experienced anything akin to Ms. Reade’s accusation.
Ben Savage, who worked for Mr. Biden from 1993 to 1996 and with Ms. Reade processing constituent mail, told “PBS Newshour” that she was fired from her job because of her poor performance — not out of retribution for filing a sexual assault claim against Mr. Biden.
“Of all the people who held that position, she’s the only one during my time there who couldn’t necessarily keep up or who found it frustrating,” Mr. Savage said.
Politico, meanwhile, dug into Ms. Reade’s past.
The website found that she also has gone by the names Tara McCabe and Alexandra McCabe and that she has a trail of “aggrieved acquaintances” who said they felt used and manipulated after trying to help her get back on her feet by reducing her rent, allowing her to be late on rental payments and lending her money.
They said Ms. Reade spoke of Mr. Biden in glowing terms and exaggerated the role she played in his office.
Austin Chung, a real estate developer who leased a place to Ms. Reade from 2008 to 2010, told Politico that people who have come into contact with Ms. Reade over the years are “actually starting to find each other and put the pieces together because we saw her face on CNN.”
“I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I have a support group now. I think we are Alexandra/Tara survivors,’” Mr. Chung said.
Ms. Reade directed inquiries to her attorney, who stood by her story.
Mr. Biden has a lot riding on voters’ beliefs in Ms. Reade’s story.
A Marquette Law School poll released last week found that Mr. Biden has a 46% to 43% lead over President Trump in the crucial battleground state of Wisconsin. In 2016, Mr. Trump was the first Republican to carry the state since President Reagan in 1984.
The survey showed a massive gender divide. Most male voters rallied behind Mr. Trump, and most female voters united behind Mr. Biden.
Mr. Biden holds a 22-point lead among women, and Mr. Trump has an 18-point lead among men.
According to the poll, most female voters disapproved of the way Mr. Trump was handling his job as president.
William H. Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, said analysts usually use “suburban women” as “a substitute term for white college-educated women, and vice versa.”
“I think these women will be important in countering more questionable Biden or Trump support among white men — even white college men, per my analysis — and are crucial to Biden’s chances in key battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida or North Carolina,” Mr. Frey said.
With that as a backdrop, Mr. Biden has drawn a line in the sand.
“If they believe Tara Reade, they probably shouldn’t vote for me,” Mr. Biden said Thursday on MSNBC when asked what message he would deliver to female voters who believe Ms. Reade’s allegation but still plan to support him. “I wouldn’t vote for me if I believed Tara Reade.”
Mr. Paleologos said it is a bold response.
“I would say that is a person who is pretty confident it didn’t happen,” he said. “Unless they have totally lost their political acumen, you don’t say something like that unless you are pretty confident it didn’t happen because if something does happen then he just made Trump’s 30-second spot.”
Mr. Trump has said he hopes Ms. Reade’s accusation isn’t true.
His reelection campaign, meanwhile, has channeled the allegation into attacks against Democrats and the mainstream media.
“The same Democrats and media who relentlessly and maliciously attacked Justice Kavanaugh’s character now spend their days avoiding any talk about the sexual assault allegation leveled against Biden,” said Sarah Matthews, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, referring to Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. “It draws a very clear double standard as to how Christine Blasey Ford was treated versus Tara Reade.”