Has former vice president Joe Biden been reading the playbook of John Howard, former Australian prime minister? Howard was defeated in 1987, regained the Liberal Party leadership in 1995, won a general election the following year against all the odds, and then went on to win four elections in a row.
The pundits compared him with Lazarus, who, according to the Gospel of St John, arose from the dead after four days. Tasteless, yes, but our Aussie counterparts always had a flair for a great line.
Biden has been in politics for nearly 50 years, became vice-president under President Barack Obama – and till last weekend had been all but written-off after a stumbling, hesitant start to the race to become the Democrats’ presidential candidate when – frankly – his age was on display with rambling discourses on his days and achievements with Obama.
On Super Tuesday, he swept nine of the 14 states. Of the 903 delegates allocated so far, Biden has 467, Bernie Sanders 392, Elizabeth Warren 51 and Michael Bloomberg 44.
Bloomberg dropped out and endorsed Biden, whose delegate tally now rises to 511. Warren remains in the race for now but if she departs her delegates would go to Sanders, bringing him to 443 and still behind Biden.
In four days, Biden turned around the race. As he did in South Carolina, he was heavily backed by African-Americans, the centre-left who fear Sanders, and Baby Boomers to claim Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Massachusetts where Warren ran a distant third behind Sanders and Biden in her home state.
He benefited from the rush of endorsements that followed South Carolina. The Wall Street Journal reckoned the party was
“ … lifting the old war horse on its back despite his many gaffes and stumbles. The prospect of an avowed socialist at the top of the ticket has scared millions of Democrats into Mr. Biden’s arms no matter his liabilities.”
Sanders won handsomely in his home state of Vermont, Colorado, Utah and California. However, the warning signs are evident as he lost ground from his 2016 vote in several states, including Vermont.
Significantly, Biden hauled in support from voters over 45 – dispelling Sanders’ claim to be the natural choice of Millennials. Most importantly, he claimed delegate-rich California.
Bloomberg proved the old US political adage that you have to do more than spend money on advertising. He spent $US18 million on advertisements in Virginia but won less than 10% of the vote.
His statement of withdrawal was widely applauded:
“I’ve known Joe for a very long time. I know his decency, his honesty, and his commitment to the issues that are so important to our country—including gun safety, health care, climate change, and good jobs.”
The next round of voting falls on Tuesday next week, with primaries in Michigan, Washington State, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, and caucuses in North Dakota.
In essence, this has become a two-horse race. Analysts believe Sanders will struggle to extend his support as Biden continues to attract endorsements.
Bloomberg’s campaign team has been talking to Biden’s and some of the former New York mayor’s war chest may be diverted to his old friend.
Warren’s star has faded. A compelling and polished platform performer, she appeals to the college-educated white women’s cohort but no further. She is a policy wonk and her rallies at times resemble lectures as she bombards her audiences with torrents of policy positions.
While this resonates with her cohort, its appeal is limited and there seems no way forward.