“I do think that there’s a concern that if he oversteps, overemphasizes a pivot to the left, that could turn off certain voters who are gettable for him.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden is leading the polls in Arizona as he balances his centrist roots with a push to move further left on certain issues, including healthcare and the environment.
The presumptive Democratic nominee is known to have cut deals with Republicans and defend politicians across the aisle, including eulogizing former Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona as showing “fairness, honesty, dignity, [and] respect.”
Now that he’s virtually guaranteed to be on the ballot this fall, Biden is sharpening his tone, still pitching consensus but touting a “bold agenda” aimed at mollifying progressives who remain skeptical he’ll deliver enough on health care, student loan debts, and the climate crisis.
The idea is to avoid repeating the party’s 2016 defeat, when Hillary Clinton struggled to unite her moderate supporters and backers of Bernie Sanders. The dynamics are different in 2020, with Democrats united in their antipathy toward Republican President Donald Trump.
So far, in Arizona, a battleground state key to either side’s election victory, things seem to be working for the former VP. An OH Predictive Insights poll from this month showed Biden seven points ahead of Trump, Biden’s third month in a row of coming out ahead.
Other polls from this month also show Biden ahead, but by smaller margins. The Democrat led a Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll by 4 points and HighGround Inc. poll by 2 points. He has also been consistently leading in national polls.
Trump’s visit to Arizona earlier this month and other appeals to his base mean his support among Republicans is strong, but many in the middle are leaning the other way. In the OHPI poll, 60% of independents said they would vote for Biden while only 30% were on Trump’s side. Just under 10% were still undecided.
Recent interviews and campaign events reveal the nuances Biden hopes can attract support in both directions. “I think health care is a right, not a privilege,” he said on CNBC. But, he added, “I do not support Medicare for All ” single-payer insurance.
Biden embraces some key principles of the Green New Deal sweeping climate plan as paths to “tens of millions of new jobs” but casts as impossible some progressives’ goal of zeroing out carbon pollution over a decade. He’s reaffirmed that he wants Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts repealed for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. But he prefers a 28% corporate tax rate – still lower than what it was before the cuts – and he’s not embraced a “wealth tax” on the fortunes of the richest Americans. He opposes the Keystone XL pipeline while stopping short of backing an outright ban on fracking.
The coronavirus pandemic has influenced Biden’s thinking, as well.
Once a senator who championed a balanced budget amendment, he’s aligned with congressional Democrats pushing trillions of dollars in aid for states, local governments, business and individuals. And, adopting the tenor of erstwhile rivals like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Biden has intensified his calls to rebuild the economy to reflect progressive values, including stamping out income inequalities baked into the pre-pandemic system.
Biden aides say he’s uniquely positioned for a wide “Biden coalition” because voters prioritize experience and temperament, along with policy. The campaign defines his coalition as young, African Americans and Latinos, as well as suburban, college-educated whites, women and those disaffected by Trump.
However, Biden’s juggling of the left wing along with mainstream Democrats and independents and Republicans disgruntled with Trump could end up as an unsuccessful attempt to be all things to all people.
Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Republican Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign and a steadfast member of the GOP’s “Never Trump” faction, told The Associated Press that more 2016 voters in decisive battleground states shunned both Trump and Clinton for center-right alternatives in Libertarian Gary Johnson or Independent Evan McMullen than Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Winning back just that cohort back could be enough to secure Biden to the presidency alone this cycle, he said.
“I do think that there’s a concern that if he oversteps, overemphasizes a pivot to the left, that could turn off certain voters who are gettable for him,” Miller said. “That’s going to be a continued tightrope through November.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.