Joe Biden is finalizing the framework for a White House campaign that would cast him as an extension of Barack Obama’s presidency and political movement. He’s betting that the majority of Democratic voters are eager to return to the style and substance of that era — and that they’ll view him as the best option to lead the way back.
The former vice president has begun testing the approach as he nears an expected campaign launch later this month. After remarks at a recent labor union event, Biden said he was proud to be an “Obama-Biden Democrat,” coining a term that his advisers define as pragmatic and progressive, and a bridge between the working-class white voters who have long had an affinity for Biden and the younger, more diverse voters who backed Obama in historic numbers.
Biden’s strategy will test whether anyone other than Obama can recreate the coalition that delivered him to the White House twice, but was something Hillary Clinton was unable to do in 2016. And it will thrust the 44th president’s legacy into the center of the 2020 campaign.
Though Obama remains overwhelmingly popular among Democrats, an undercurrent of the party’s primary contest is the push from some liberal Democrats to go far further than his administration in upending the federal health care system or addressing income inequality. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have led the charge, calling for more sweeping, systemic change, though neither has explicitly criticized Obama by name.
“The party has changed somewhat,” said Paul Harstad, a longtime Obama pollster. “I think the party is looking for someone more aggressive than Obama in tactics and approach.”
In some ways, Biden’s embrace of Obama’s legacy is to be expected. He spent eight years as Obama’s No. 2, serving as a key congressional liaison and foreign policy adviser, and the two men remain personally close.
Yet Biden, a 76-year-old white man with more than four decades of political experience, is an atypical heir to Obama’s legacy, particularly in a Democratic field with a historic number of minority candidates, as well as contenders who represent the kind of generational change Obama ushered in more than a decade ago.