Michigan Dems may shift support if Biden runs

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Some Michigan Democrats are anxious for Vice President Joe Biden to decide soon whether he’ll jump into the race for president and disrupt former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presumed path to the Democratic nomination.

The timing of Biden’s decision-making process is unknown, but party insiders contend the Oct. 13 Democratic presidential candidate debate puts added pressure on the vice president to make up his mind.

“I think there’s a lot of Clinton supporters who, if Joe got in, would switch ships,” said Democratic consultant Howard Edelson, who managed former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s 2006 re-election campaign. “I’ve heard that from a lot of political folks who are here in Michigan.”

The interest among Democrats about a Biden candidacy for 2016 has intensified, in part, due to the surging campaign of Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist. He fought Clinton to almost a tie in third-quarter fundraising as her campaign raised more than $28 million to his camp’s $26 million.

But Sanders is seen by many members of the Democratic Party establishment as unelectable in a November 2016 face-off with the eventual Republican nominee. It is causing them to turn to Biden as a viable alternative, as Clinton’s front-runner status has eroded in public opinion polls.

State Rep. Fred Durhal III, D-Detroit, endorsed a “Draft Biden” movement this week, though he’s not yet convinced the 72-year-old vice president will jump into the race.

“I’m not knocking Hillary, saying she can’t do it, but at this point I think Joe Biden is the better candidate,” Durhal said this week. “He’s hanging around there just in case something happens to the Clinton campaign. Joe Biden could just slide right in.”

Edelson said he’s withholding an endorsement of Clinton until Biden makes up his mind or she repairs the “trust issues” voters have with her because of her controversial storage of classified State Department emails on a private server.

“It’s her nomination to lose, and she’s having problems closing the deal,” Edelson said.

Clinton backers stand firm

Clinton’s most ardent supporters in Michigan are not wavering, but they are concerned about what a fractious primary would do to the party’s unity in the general election.

“While it would give a lot of Democrats heartburn to have (Clinton and Biden) face off, that’s how this process works,” said former state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat. “But it doesn’t change how I feel that we’re ready to put Hillary Clinton in the White House.”

One party activist said Biden’s entrance into the contest would create the kind of political disruption the Republicans are experiencing in their crowded primary field.

“I think his involvement is going to bring just disarray into the party,” said Chuck Keys, a Democrat from Northville.

Some Michigan Democrats remain indifferent about whether Biden should run.

“If Joe thinks that it’s best for the country and his family … I welcome him into the race as another voice,” said Bob Fetter, chairman of the Democrats’ 9th Congressional District committee covering parts of Oakland and Macomb counties. “I really like Hillary, I like Bernie, I love Joe Biden. I like ’em all, so it’s difficult for me to choose.”

Biden, who represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate, twice sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988 and 2008 to no avail.

In early 2008, Biden dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, where he registered less than 1 percent of the vote in a contest won by then-Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama later picked Biden as his running mate after defeating Clinton in a grueling series of primaries. .

Edelson and other political observers argue Biden could use his prestige as vice president to quickly build a campaign in Michigan and nationally.

“He’s got name ID that you don’t have to buy,” Edelson said. “You don’t have to work on a campaign for months and say ‘Bernie Sanders who?’ He’s a known national quantity.”

Bill Clinton helping Hillary

But Clinton has an early fundraising advantage in Michigan, though her national campaign finance juggernaut is reportedly slowing as contributors hit the legal limit of $2,700 per individual for the primary.

Former President Bill Clinton is headlining a fundraiser Wednesday for his wife at the Bingham Farms home of a supporter — 11 weeks after Hillary Clinton hauled in more than $500,000 at a Grosse Pointe fundraiser.

TJ Bucholz, a Lansing-based Democratic consultant, said Hillary Clinton is running into the same stumbling blocks that cost her the nomination in 2008 to Obama: “That love of the former president does not translate to his wife.”

“I do think that Michigan is fertile ground for an alternative candidate,” Bucholz said. “The only person who transcends that is Joe Biden. … As an observer, if I were to run a Biden campaign here, there’s votes and money to be had.”

In the coming weeks, though, Biden’s moves will be closely watched. CNN reported Thursday Biden will likely skip the Oct. 13 debate and wait until later in the month to make his intentions known.

Edelson said Biden’s debate absence gives him and voters the ability to see how well Clinton performs on stage against Sanders and the other three men actively seeking the Democratic nomination — former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and former Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb.

“He can come in afterward and try and be a mender,” Edelson said. “(But) he’s got to show some leg leading up to the debate about what he’s doing.”