A few years ago, Dick Harpootlian was playing golf with Joe Biden in South Carolina when the vice president sliced a ball so far right that it went into the fairway of another hole.
After a more juiced up version of “gosh darn it” that will accompany the average golf game, and despite some anxious Secret Service agents, Biden insisted on retrieving the ball.
Before Harpootlian knew it, Biden was chatting up a couple on whose hole he had sliced the shot.
They happened to be from somewhere near Delaware, Biden’s home state, and he couldn’t get enough answers from them in the few minutes that followed.
Where did they live? What did they do? Where did their kids go to school?
“He doesn’t see them in terms of polling data,” Harpootlian recalled.
This story, in a nutshell, is why Harpootlian thinks Biden should run for president. It’s the kind of connection rarely seen in modern politics, an authenticity that Biden has seemingly mastered.
Through all of the presumed inevitability of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, Harpootlian has been willing to publicly buck that trend. The outspoken lawyer and former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party has been publicly urging Biden to enter the race, and is consistently quoted in media stories displaying either Democratic scepticism about Clinton or enthusiasm about Biden.
“I think the only way Democrats maintain control of the White House will be Joe Biden,” Harpootlian told Business Insider in a recent interview.
Harpootlian might, after all, get his wish. This weekend, sources close to Biden were cited in various publications indicating that he was thinking anew about a run, amid signs of Clinton struggling and candidates like US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) showing the lust for some kind of alternative.
The most vivid example of the new Biden bubble came in The New York Times, where columnist Maureen Dowd described a scene in which Biden’s late son Beau, before his death in May, attempted to make his father promise he would run.
“Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralysed,” Dowd wrote. “But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”
Biden values are indeed the crux of the argument for supporters like Harpootlian. Clinton, he says, has a huge problem that Biden solves: She’s not a good campaigner, she won’t connect with a large percentage of the American public, and she will fail to excite both the Democratic base and independent voters in the way that an Obama-Biden ticket did in 2008 and 2012.
“She does not connect in any sort of visceral way like Joe Biden does, or Barack Obama does, or her husband does,” Harpootlian said. “All those folks connect with the country, with an audience, in a real visceral, emotional way. She doesn’t. She gives a very good lecture, but it’s not one that would inspire one to support her.”
Harpootlian deploys various pieces of evidence for why Biden will excite the base.
Biden doesn’t have Clinton’s “baggage” that comes with scrutiny over her use of a private email server, for example. He still has a low net worth and has seemingly prided himself on not using public office to amass wealth, something that stands in contrast to Clinton’s six-figure speaking fees and comments about her financial status.
He’s been well ahead of even Obama — and certainly Clinton — on issues like gay marriage, for which he famously declared his support in the heat of the 2012 presidential election. Clinton did not reverse her stance until the year after that.
Harpootlian also even cites Biden’s foreign policy chops as outpacing the former secretary of state’s, pointing to Biden’s argument in 2007 that Iraq should have been split into partitions — one that now looks a lot smarter.
“He’s a leader on the foreign-policy stage. He’s a leader on the domestic stage,” Harpootlian said. “There’s nothing but good things to say about Joe Biden. And for Hillary Clinton, I think it’s maybe not her fault, but we’re going to hear about it all.”
Harpootlian drew comparisons between Biden’s current situation and that of then-Sen. Barack Obama, whom Harpootlian supported early on in the 2008 presidential election when all signs again pointed to Clinton as the inevitable nominee.
But Clinton is the most formidable, non-incumbent front-runner for either party in recent memory. Despite a surge from Sanders over the past few months, she still leads national Democratic primary polls by dozens of points, and leads by at least double digits in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Aside from polling, Clinton has already raised gobs of money, even breaking a record set by Obama in 2012. She has piled up key endorsements from almost half of the Democratic senators and members of the House of Representatives. And even one of Biden’s close confidantes, former chief of staff Ron Klain, has reportedly signed on board the Clinton campaign.
There are a few warning signs for Clinton in recent polls that also come as a potential boon to Biden. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Biden with significantly higher favorability ratings among Democrats and among voters in general than Clinton. He also does about as well or better than her against top Republican candidates Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).
A recent Monmouth University poll found Biden with 13% support from Democratic primary voters. But another 12% said they’d be very likely to support him if he got in the race, and still another 31% said they’d be at least somewhat likely to vote for him. Most of that support would come at the expense of Clinton.
“Most people seem to be focusing on a Sanders surge among the liberal wing of the party. But the bigger threat to Clinton may come from a Biden candidacy, where the two would be fighting for the same voters,” said Patrick Murray, director Monmouth University Polling Institute.
A little more than three months ago, Harpootlian’s mother died. One of the first calls that night was from Biden. They cried, laughed, and shared stories for about a half hour. Biden didn’t tell Harpootlian then about his son’s struggle, but all the while, he told him he’d get through it.
“He pays attention to people,” Harpootlian said, “as individual human beings.”
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