Biden-Obama Relationship Presents a Considerable Moat

Black voters are, for the moment, still expected to throw their support behind the former VP

Contributor’s Riff

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by Alton Drew | originally at | @altondrew

Analysis of last weekend’s Democratic Party convention in South Carolina made a lot of reference to the strength of the African American electorate in the primary season with Black voters making up an estimated 60 percent of likely Democratic primary voters there.  African Americans are expected to throw their support behind former vice-president Joe Biden, the wing man for former president Barack Obama, a reward for Mr. Biden’s loyalty to the first African American elected president of the United States.

Early Acrimony Was Short-Lived

In 2007, Mr. Biden was a rival of Mr. Obama’s for the Democratic nomination for president. Even as his eventual choice for vice-president, Mr. Obama expressed concerns over Mr. Biden’s gaffes while Mr. Biden questioned Mr. Obama’s campaign strategy and lack of more robust policy proposals during the campaign. That early acrimony dissolved into a closer working relationship and eventually a well-documented friendship.

Obama-Biden Friendship Presents a Challenge to Primary Competitors

Going after Mr. Biden means going after the Obama legacy.  The candidates in general have been following the unwritten rule of no attacks on a popular Obama administration known in part as having no drama, and drama via attack is what Biden opponents want to avoid.

Last week, Mr. Biden appeared to provide an opening for attack when he suggested his success in being able to work across the ideological aisle within the Democratic party when describing his working relationship with segregationist senators Herman Talmadge and James Easterland during Mr. Biden’s early years in the U.S. Senate.  Cory Booker, U.S. senator from New Jersey and a competitor for the nomination, pounced on Mr. Biden’s example of his ability to work with conservatives.  Mr. Booker’s efforts have not scored him points with voters overall and African American voters in particular since published reports seem to indicate that a significant number of African American voters are willing to look past the segregationist ideologies of Talmadge and Easterland and focus on Mr. Biden’s attempts at pragmatism and his loyalty to former President Obama.

Mr. Booker still polls in the mid-single digits, one indication that attacking a former vice-president for the first African American president may not raise a candidate’s electoral stock value.

Obama’s Former Staffers Exercising a Little More Independence

But while the candidates may be pulling punches on Mr. Biden, former staffers for Mr. Obama are exercising leeway in who they are supporting.  While most reportedly express their respect for Mr. Biden, some are not seeing him as the candidate that can carry on the hoped-for transformative aspects of the Obama presidency, choosing instead to work on the campaigns of other candidates .

It cannot be said with too much authority whether the lack of access to the full Obama electoral apparatus has contributed more to the 1) tightened gap between Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Mr. Biden versus 2) her campaign strategy. However, it can’t be overlooked that experienced, progressive strategists are not trying to continue to former bosses political legacy with a candidate that may seem too establishment for their tastes.