Two months ago, a poll showing him in second place and a union’s decision not to endorse him would have been considered very bad news for former Vice President Joe Biden. But considering the rough shellacking he and his campaign just endured in Iowa and New Hampshire, a new Nevada poll showing Biden in second place and the Culinary Union’s decision not to endorse his rivals might feel like more of a reprieve from worse news over at Biden headquarters.
So does Joe Biden have a new lease on political life? Judging by his event here in Henderson tonight: Maybe.
Say it ain’t so, Joe! Might he turn it around?
As we discussed earlier today, the R-J’s new poll of likely Nevada Democratic caucus-goers places Joe Biden in second place at 18%, behind U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) at 25% yet ahead of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) at 13%, Tom Steyer at 11%, and Biden’s chief centrist rivals Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) at 10%. On top of that, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) issued a hearty endorsement of Biden and offered a bit of a consolation prize following the Culinary Union’s decision not to endorse before the caucus.
On that Culinary Union non-endorsement, it came as a bit of a surprise to national reporters considering the war of words involving union leaders, the Sanders campaign, activists seeking to relitigate the seemingly never-ending fight over “Medicare for All” single-payer health care, and a small subset of Sanders supporters who apparently resorted to profanity-laced threats targeting Culinary Union leaders.
On one end, Culinary’s announcement came as another blow to Biden, considering how hard he tried to earn their outright endorsement. But on the other end, Culinary’s decision not to endorse Steyer, Buttigieg, or Klobuchar at least spared Biden the worst possible outcome. Meanwhile in a typically quiet corner in the foothills of Henderson, Biden drew a crowd of roughly 250 to the Sun City MacDonald Ranch clubhouse who mostly seemed ready to stick with him no matter what.
“Make no mistake: We are in the struggle for who we are as a country. We’re better than this. Our ideals we share as a human family tell us we’re better than this.”
– Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger
In introducing Biden, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) exclaimed, “I know Joe Biden is the man to beat Donald Trump. He has the depth of knowledge and the breadth of experience to send Donald Trump packing. That’s why I’m ridin’ with Biden!”
She was followed by none other than Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of “Miracle on the Hudson” fame. Sullenberger explained why he decided to do something visitors typically don’t do while enjoying a Las Vegas weekend getaway: “I’m very honored to serve my nation again, serve to elect this man as our president: Joe Biden.”
And in echoing Biden himself, Sullenberger told the audience, “Make no mistake: We are in the struggle for who we are as a country. We’re better than this. Our ideals we share as a human family tell us we’re better than this.”
“As my mom would say, ‘You need to wash your mouth out with soap.’ How many of you have pulled the children away from the television when he spoke?”
– Joe Biden, on Donald Trump
Minutes later, Sullenberger’s words were put to the test as a self-identified supporter of President Donald Trump unveiled an anti-CNN t-shirt and hurled insults at Biden. In a moment mirroring Biden’s similarly heckled rally in East Las Vegas last September, Biden seemed thrown off balance for a few seconds as the crowd shouted back at the pro-Trump heckler, then as security guards escorted the heckler out of the clubhouse.
And yet, within seconds Biden was back on track. Yet also by then, Biden had already ditched his teleprompter and decided to spend the rest of the evening off the cuff. On Trump himself, Biden didn’t hold back: “He is not just our most unusual president in our history. There has been so much hatred and division in this country.” He soon added, “As my mom would say, ‘You need to wash your mouth out with soap.’ How many of you have pulled the children away from the television when he spoke?”
Biden also had plenty to say about the end of Trump’s impeachment trial. Joe Biden didn’t say anything about Trump’s and his allies ongoing attacks on him and his son Hunter Biden, but he did complain, “Look what happened recently: Lt. Col. [Alexander] Vindman, [Trump] rushes him out of the White House like a criminal. And he gives the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh? Even if you’re a Republican, you have to wonder, ‘What’s going on here?’”
“Folks, we have to treat people with respect again. Our children are listening. Our silence is complicity.”
– Joe Biden
As we’ve seen this past year, the Democratic candidates have tested various general election messages against Trump. For Bernie Sanders, it’s the overarching theme of Trump’s broken promises to working class Americans. For Elizabeth Warren, it’s the overarching theme of the culture of corruption enabling the rise of Trump and the continued corrosion of “The American Dream”. For Pete Buttigieg, it’s the more optically heavy message of generational change.
For Biden, it seems to be an updated version of Hillary Clinton’s argument against Trump in 2016: “Folks, we have to treat people with respect again. Our children are listening. Our silence is complicity.”
He did talk some policy during this event, such as his latest attempt to jump in front of the rest of the Democratic field on gun violence prevention and his ongoing effort to define Sanders’ and Warren’s respective “Medicare for All” single-payer health care plans as “malarkey”. On his own health care agenda, Biden promised, “I can get it done, and I can get it done quickly. It won’t cost anyone $30 or $35 trillion.”
“Remember who we are: This is the United States of America. There is not a single thing we can’t do. Donald Trump can’t stop us. Let’s take back this country!”
– Joe Biden
Yes, Biden went there again with his “basic bargain” and “Middle Class Joe” talk: “What’s happened over the last several years is we’ve lost the middle class. We no longer have the wealthiest middle class in the world.” He continued, “By the way, the middle class is not a number. It’s a value set.”
Early in the campaign cycle, Biden came under fire for marketing himself as “Middle Class Joe” while taking plenty of campaign cash from corporate powers that be. He’s still doing plenty of high-dollar fundraisers around the country, but he’s no longer the center of controversy as Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s respective relationships with corporate powers that be are attracting more scrutiny.
Back here in Henderson, Biden stayed for a while after the program to do selfies with the crowd. Just before selfie time began, Biden implored upon the audience, “Remember who we are: This is the United States of America. There is not a single thing we can’t do. Donald Trump can’t stop us. Let’s take back this country!”
Some senior Democrats have wondered whether Trump stopped Biden’s campaign cold with his attempted Ukraine shakedown, and others have wondered whether Biden’s simply being crowded out by way of Sanders’ more robust progressive populist platform on one end and Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s respective moderate pitches on the other end. But right now, as Biden’s back in Nevada and seemingly back in his element here, there is a single thing he needs to do to make his way back to the front of the pack. And right now, it seems like he may have one more chance to prove he can still win.