Kilgore put his finger on perhaps the biggest pieces of Biden baggage going into 2020.
In the wake of #MeToo and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, he’d face an energized female electorate that would perhaps not look kindly on his tenure during the Hill hearings. Older women might remember that he refused to seat a panel of sexual-harassment experts, and that he allowed Clarence Thomas to speak twice, before and after Hill’s testimony. Younger women might not know the full history, but Biden’s female competitors would be likely to fill in the gaps. And John Zogby, a veteran pollster who believes that Biden would be a strong candidate, nevertheless concedes that, given current cultural attitudes, Biden “likes to rub women’s shoulders a bit uncomfortably.”
Given how important voters of color are in Democratic primaries, Biden’s rivals would almost certainly bring up the Clinton-era crime bill that he shepherded through the Senate. (He referred to it at the time as the “1994 Biden Crime Bill.”) The crime rate was far higher back then, and Democrats were determined to erase the perception that they were soft on crime. But today that law is widely blamed for exacerbating an era of mass incarceration that disproportionately hurt racial minorities. Hillary Clinton distanced herself from the law during the 2016 campaign, but Biden, as vice president, said he had no second thoughts, “not at all.”
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Progressives, stoked in part by Sanders-Warren populism, also vote heavily in Democratic primaries, and Biden’s rivals could resurrect some of his past ties to credit-card companies, some of which were his constituents in corporate-friendly Delaware. In 2005, he supported a bill, later signed by President Bush, that made it harder for broke consumers to file for bankruptcy; he’d voted for similar legislation four years earlier, too. His competitors could similarly force him to defend his son Hunter’s consulting fees from a major banking company, MBNA Corporation, during the same years that those bankruptcy bills were in play.
One former Biden campaign aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, summed up his weaknesses this way: “What I’m thinking is this: ‘Joe, you were always a bad candidate and now you’re too old and too white and too male, but I love you as a happy warrior.’”
Biden still has his boosters, however, and that’s likely a big reason why he still nurtures his lifelong dream. The skeptics question whether he can reassemble the winning Obama coalition: women, minorities, young people, upscale professionals. But some of his defenders believe that the kid from hardscrabble Scranton can recapture voters that Democrats have left behind. The party strategist Tom Lindenfeld tells me: “For [Democrats] to regain our electoral advantage, we must appeal to the white working-class voters we lost in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and elsewhere. ... Biden’s authenticity and working-class roots might be just what we need to broaden our appeal and win the essential swing Rust Belt states.”