Following a strong performance by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton during Tuesday night’s debate, political insiders are chattering that Vice President Joe Biden may have missed his window to jump into the race.
The stakes were high for the former secretary of state, especially as Biden continues to mull a run for the nation’s highest office. The argument for Biden 2016, after all, hinges on the notion that Democrats badly want an alternative to Clinton, who in recent months has been bogged down over questions about her personal e-mail, her vote for the Iraq War, her recent flip-flop over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the terrorist attack in Benghazi, and long-held criticism that she’s not relatable.
But Clinton seemed to easily navigate those controversial issues in Las Vegas, while Biden—who was watching the debate 2,400 miles away from his home in Washington D.C. – was not mentioned once. Clinton – who has begun to break from President Obama on issues like the trade pact and Syria—spoke highly of her former boss during the Q&A, perhaps closing a road Biden was going to go down if he did jump in the race.
According to analytics company Zignal Labs, Sen. Bernie Sanders was mentioned 617,643 times on major social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, while Clinton garnered 476,226 mentions. Meanwhile, Biden received just 34,585. For many donors, activists and potential supporters, Biden may have been out of sight and out of mind.
“I do think he faces a bit of a new political reality,” said Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. “…This notion that donors would say ‘we got to get behind Joe because we have a flawed candidate at the front’ – that’s gone.”
Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist who worked on Clinton’s failed 2008 White House campaign, echoed that sentiment, saying, “After last night, there is little room, if any, to find a rationale for Joe Biden to jump into the race.” Cardona suggested Clinton, who has long labored over her image as inauthentic and cynical, needed to show a personal side of herself, which she did during the debate.
According to a Politico survey of top activists, operatives and strategists in early voting states, 62% of Democratic insiders said Biden should not run in the aftermath of Clinton’s successful debate. But how much her performance pays off in the long term – and if it’s enough to beat back Biden – remains to be seen. Draft Biden, a Super PAC encouraging Biden to run for president, insists the vice president still has a window of opportunity.
Clinton “had a good night, no argument there,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist who is advising Draft Biden. “But I don’t think the vice president is wondering if there’s room for him on stage. He’s got 100% name ID and a national network of donors ready to work with him if he gets into the race. I don’t think he was sitting down with a bowl of popcorn watching the debate and thinking if it makes sense” for him to jump in the race. “He’s in position where if he wants to run, if he were to get in today, the entire news cycle of the debate would go away,” Schale also argued.
Josh Alcorn, a senior Draft Biden adviser who was the political director to the VP’s son, Beau Biden, before the former Delaware attorney general died of cancer in May, added, “I don’t think the vice president will make his decision to run based on whatever happened during the debate or in response to other candidates … What I took away from last night is that the more people hear about Joe Biden, the more they’ll want him to run.”