vision 2020

Joe Biden’s Early Campaign Strategy Doesn’t Involve Much Campaigning

Joe Biden in Iowa, where he’s been less visible than his fellow Democratic candidates. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

There’s little question that, at this point in the 2020 Democratic primary, Joe Biden is the favorite to win the party’s nomination. The polls show it, the betting markets confirm it, and four weeks after he made his bid official, Biden’s campaign is acting like it.

One illustration of that: the former vice-president is doing far fewer public events than most of his competitors in the crowded Democratic field. That’s especially evident this holiday weekend, when Elizabeth Warren is getting coffee with voters, Bernie Sanders is hitting up Memorial Day cookouts, and Kirsten Gillibrand is making 11 public appearances in Iowa — the same number of events Biden has held since launching his campaign.

But this makes sense for Biden, his team tells the Washington Post, because he simply doesn’t have to work as hard:

The light public schedule reflects the unique position of his campaign, advisers say: With near universal name recognition and high favorability ratings among Democrats, the former vice president does not need to introduce himself to voters like nearly every other candidate. And as the leader in early polls, he can attract media attention without splashy events.

So what’s Biden doing instead? Advisers say he’s working on “vital but less public activities,” including “fundraising, one-on-one calls, policy development, and the building of a campaign infrastructure.” He’s also attending private fundraisers. Last week, he attended two but didn’t hold any public events, according U.S. News and World Report.

Those tasks are keeping him so busy that in the coming weeks he’ll miss MoveOn’s Big Ideas forum, the California Democratic Party convention, the Iowa Democratic Party dinner, and South Carolina’s Black Economic Alliance presidential forum. Any TV town halls coming up? Nope.

Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, defended the candidate’s schedule. “I don’t think any voter or any activist will have any questions about where Joe Biden stands on any issue,” she told the Post, noting that Biden spends up to an hour on the rope line with voters after events. “His schedule is and will be driven by him talking on his own terms about his policy positions and his vision for the country.”

There could, of course, be more to this strategy. Biden has, in his first month on the campaign trail, managed to avoid any major gaffes — no small achievement for a guy with his reputation. As the Times reported earlier this month, the gaffe avoidance is partially because Biden is closely guarded by aides at his events and he’s leaned away from allowing voters to directly ask him questions.

Another potential upside, as Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz told the Post, is that hiding from voters will allow them to continue to idealize Biden, be it as the affable “Uncle Joe,” the Trans Am–washing Onion parody, or the Obama buddy. “The more people see him live in 2019, the more they realize he might not be the guy they remember from 2008,” Katz said.

But there are potential downsides here too. Among them are the risk that voters on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire won’t get to know Biden like they’re getting to know Warren, Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke. Another is that the nickname Donald Trump has been workshopping for Biden might actually stick.

Biden’s Early Campaign Doesn’t Involve Much Campaigning