Issues & Ideas

5 reasons Biden might not catch Clinton

Vice President Joe Biden would have a rough time challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

They’re too much alike. They appeal to the same Democratic constituencies. Their Senate voting records are nearly identical. They even share the same controversies – both voted for the Iraq war.

Biden, who is said to be seriously weighing a bid for the Democratic nomination, would start with some significant advantages. He’s well-known, well-liked among Democrats and could raise big money in a hurry. His easy way with people is a sharp contrast to Clinton’s style.

His biggest variable is one that he won’t know, whether Clinton’s troubles with her private email server will become a serious political liability. At the moment, she retains strong backing from women, minorities and Democratic leaders, the same groups Biden would need to win.

Add to all that the burden of running as a vice president seeking to succeed a president after his full term ends.

Though many vice presidents have won their party’s nomination for president – recent examples include Al Gore in 2000, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Walter Mondale in 1984, Hubert Humphrey in 1968 – only one since 1840 has won the top office as a sitting vice president who succeeded a president serving a full term, Bush in 1988.

Biden backers contend his personality and his political history make him uniquely qualified. Democrats will generally agree on “95 percent of the issues,” said Steven Schale, an adviser to the Draft Biden 2016 SuperPAC, which is not affiliated with the vice president’s office.

Biden, though, could falter. Here’s why:

1. It’s hard to tell the Biden and Clinton records apart

Biden, a senator from Delaware from 1973 until 2009, has a lifetime Senate voting score of 86 out of 100 from the AFL-CIO. Clinton, a U.S. senator from New York from 2001 to 2009, has a 94.

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave Clinton a lifetime rating of 92 out of 100, while Biden scored an 82.

“If you account for the fact that Clinton’s entire career was during a more polarized era in the Senate … I’d say these scores are closer than they appear,” said Don Kusler, national Americans for Democratic Action director.

During their eight years together in the Senate, Biden and Clinton both voted against President George W. Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, his Medicare prescription program, and the nominations of Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

“Those two are not much different in what they stand for,” said Bret Nilles, chairman of the Linn County, Iowa, Democratic Party.

2. Biden and Clinton voted for the Iraq war in 2002

Biden chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, conducting hearings as the Senate considered giving Bush broad authority to wage war.

He and Clinton were among 29 Democrats who supported the effort. “The objective is to compel Iraq to destroy its illegal weapons of mass destruction and its programs to develop and produce missiles and more of those weapons,” Biden told the Senate. It turned out there were no such weapons.

Clinton last year called her vote a mistake. Biden pushed a plan to divide Iraq into separate areas for Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.

3. As a sitting vice president, Biden can’t pick his 2016 spots

Some reports indicate he would concentrate on South Carolina, where Clinton lost badly in 2008. Biden could be popular in New Hampshire, where his person-to-person style could go over well. But he can’t ignore Iowa, where in 2008 he placed fifth with 0.9 percent.

“I don’t see how the sitting VP could sit back like that,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, nonpartisan political analysts.

A vice president is also more vulnerable to a strong challenge. Suppose someone else wins big in the early states, amassing momentum and money to run more ads and hire more workers as the campaign quickly expands into more expensive states. Will donors stick with Biden?

4. Clinton’s head start is significant

The email furor has weakened her a bit, but she retains strong leads and decent favorability ratings among Democrats in poll after poll. A CNN/ORC survey earlier this month found Clinton the strong favorite among Democrats over her rivals to handle race relations, foreign policy and the economy.

A lot of mainstream Democrats see the uproar as a frenzy fed only by the media or conservatives. “Democrats in general think Republicans are good at overkill,” said Scott Brennan, an Iowa Democratic National Committee member.

Draft Biden’s Schale thought Biden could overcome those hurdles with his personality. “He’s a Democrat with a working-class background,” said Schale, state director for President Barack Obama’s 2008 Florida campaign. “He has an ability to deal with that segment of the population.”

5. The gaffes

Remember his placing his hands around the shoulder of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s wife at his swearing in? Or his comment in 2007 that Obama was the “first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean?”

“Biden’s history of gaffes is a problem,” said Kondik.

To win, said Brennan, Biden has to find a niche, and at this point, “I’m not sure what that is.”