With Warren’s rise, Biden faces Dems’ anxiety about 2020 bid

Bill Barrow, Steve Peoples and Brian Slodysko
Associated Press

Washington – Joe Biden is confronting growing anxiety among would-be allies in the Democratic establishment about his ability to win the presidential nomination following underwhelming debate performances, lagging fundraising and withering attacks from rivals in his own party and from President Donald Trump .

The former vice president’s bank account is better suited for a city council race than a presidential election, warns Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and Democratic National Committee chairman. Democratic donor Robert Zimmerman describes group “therapy sessions” with some party financiers haranguing the direction of the race. And in New Hampshire, state House Speaker Steve Shurtleff is leaning toward backing Biden, but says “people wish he’d be a little more forceful.”

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, talks with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio.

Their concern is heightened by the rise of Elizabeth Warren , a progressive long viewed by current and former elected officials, big donors and veteran strategists as too liberal to beat Trump in the general election. Warren and Biden are essentially tied at the top of the race with the rest of the field lagging behind.

With first votes in the Democratic primary fast approaching, the new dynamic is sparking widespread frustration among establishment Democrats who have increasingly begun to speak out about the direction of the 2020 contest as they implore Democratic donors sitting on millions of dollars to get off the sidelines to bolster Biden’s candidacy.

“Every dinner party and cocktail party becomes a therapy session,” said Zimmerman, a member of the Democratic National Committee based in New York.

The same alarms are going off on the West Coast.

“Why are they are not being more supportive of the vice president, who is a centrist?” said Michael S. Smith, a major Democratic donor and Biden supporter in Los Angeles. “If you’re worried about a flood, don’t you start piling up sandbags? I don’t understand the lack of support.”

Others direct their concerns at Biden.

McAuliffe, a former chairman for Bill and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, seized on Biden’s fundraising and his pace of spending to raise questions about the campaign. In an interview, he said it might be time to fire some campaign consultants.

“I don’t think anybody likes to read about $1 million spent on private jets,” McAuliffe said, referring to Biden’s preferred mode of travel. “If I were advising the vice president I’d say, ‘Fly commercial, get a bag of peanuts or pretzels, go up and down the aisle handing them out. It’ll do wonders for you.’

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was more subtle, praising Biden as the safest political bet against Trump and the best potential president among Democrats. But he suggested the candidate’s performance so far falls short in some areas.

“I hear concerns about gaffes on this and that” and the campaign trajectory, Rendell said, recalling donor calls he’s made on Biden’s behalf. “Donors are always worried in any campaign,” Rendell quipped, but said he nonetheless must spend time “reassuring them.”

The former governor invokes the threat of Warren as the nominee to bolster Biden to nervous supporters.

“We know Joe Biden can win Pennsylvania,” Rendell tells prospective donors. “If Elizabeth is the nominee, we have to fight tooth-and-nail for every last vote.”

Despite the worries, Biden’s support among primary voters shows no sign of cratering – even with Trump and his allies trying to dig up dirt on Biden’s son’s work in Ukraine . While Warren has gained on Biden in many polls and fundraising, the former vice president has remained roughly steady in polls of national Democratic voters.

And perhaps most importantly, he is still the strong favorite among black voters whose support is decisive in a Democratic primary.

Still, anxious donors, party officials and strategists see the need for a stronger national organization. That means competing more aggressively with Warren’s ground game in the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, while building out an expansive operation for the Super Tuesday calendar and other states.