How the Media Missed the Joe Biden Story
"Imagine believing that what the Democratic Party is looking for in its leaders in 2019 is a handsy geriatric white man,” Matthew Walther of THE WEEK wrote about Joe Biden’s potential candidacy for president back in March.

That dismissiveness toward the former vice president wasn't unique in the months leading up to Biden's entrance into the Democratic primary. Pundits treated Biden like a
Las Vegas has-been, pining for a comeback at Caesars Palace.

As of yesterday, however - four weeks to the day that Biden entered the race - RealClear Politics was showing him leading his nearest primary challenger by 17 points. And no Democrat is polling better in a head-to-head match-up with Donald Trump.

The former vice president's extraordinary dominance has upended the glum storyline that ran through so much of his pre-announcement coverage earlier this year. In retrospect it's stunning how so many in the media underestimated Biden's strength.

A forage through the graveyard of Biden columns over the past six months
finds a trove of pessimistic coverage. Like Walther, CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer also wrote a column entitled “Why Joe Biden shouldn’t run for president.” Other publications used slight variations on the theme (“Joe Biden Isn’t the Answer for President in 2020” - New York magazine; “Why Joe Biden is Not the Answer to Trump”- Rolling Stone).

Some fretted that, much as they loved him, Biden couldn’t win a general election against Donald Trump. “Nostalgia is a risky currency and an odd fit for a party that last claimed the White House with a mantra of hope and change,” wrote Frank Bruni in The Times in December.

Others predicted that Biden wouldn’t survive the primaries. “The former vice president may be beloved, but he is also out of step with the post-Trump Democratic Party,” stated Politico on April 16th. “What Biden should be asking,” argued Charlie Mahtesian, “is whether the party wants him, and not just whether he should seize his last chance.”

Nine days after that story ran, Biden entered the race, and almost immediately seized control of the primary in a way that took many by surprise. As his numbers rose, the narrative suddenly took a swerve, with New York’s Jonathan Chait behind the wheel. “The prevailing mood toward a Biden candidacy has been a combination of anger that he has the temerity to lead a party that has left him behind and sympathy that he’s too addled to grasp his predicament,” he wrote.

“The poor guy has disregarded all the advice and decided to run anyway. And initial polling has revealed that a large number of Democrats have not left Biden behind at all. Perhaps it was the party’s intelligentsia, not Biden, that was out of touch with the modern Democratic electorate.”

And thus did a new conventional wisdom emerge that the party and the media had missed the boat on Joe Biden.

“Joe Biden is much more popular among voters than the left’s intelligentsia anticipated, with staggering leads in every poll of Democratic presidential candidates,” wrote Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic . “Why did so many journalists and Twitter pundits fail to foresee his success?”

Concern about Biden’s strength as a candidate remains widespread. But his success has forced some increasingly contorted arguments by his doubters. Some argue that Biden's supporters are only with him because they feel he is the most electable candidate – and they're wrong.

“In contemporary politics, the quest to find an electable candidate hasn't resulted in candidates that actually win,” Michelle Goldberg wrote in The Times . “Voters don’t do themselves any favors when they try to think like pundits.”

That may well be true. But it's probably time to acknowledge that there are a lot of Democrats out there who want Joe Biden to be president.
Mayor Pete's Fox Hunt
Someday, Pete Buttigieg will finally say the wrong thing or do something that ticks someone off. But thus far this candidate of seemingly perfect temperament is maneuvering his way through the early primaries like a skilled political athlete.

The dilemma of whether to participate in a Fox News town hall has been one of the major media challenges confronting Democratic candidates this season. Some have opted to take the gamble and put themselves in front of millions of potential voters. Others have passed on the opportunity, scoring points for snubbing one of the left's favorite targets.

Buttigieg managed to have the best of both worlds this week. He participated in a Fox News event, yet promptly bashed the network, a risky move that would give pause to the most seasoned of politicians. In doing so, he reaped the benefit of introducing himself to potential supporters, endeared himself to his party's base and won widespread acclaim in the media.

"Mr. Buttigieg's hour-long appearance spawned headlines, solid ratings, and kudos from liberals pleased to see the South Bend, Ind., mayor calling out Fox News pundits on their own network," reported Michael Grynbaum in The Times .

The Mayor Pete story continues to be one of the most intriguing of the campaign season. We don’t know how it will end, but this political athlete is looking increasingly like the rookie of the year.
The Beto O'Rourke Roller Coaster
No one seems to know what to make of Beto O'Rourke, whose numbers plunged this week. He’s fallen from third to eighth place since March.

The spectacular flameout of a one-time political star seemed almost complete this week - until his CNN town hall Tuesday night earned rave reviews. His appearance "revealed the fruits of his over 150 town halls during a galvanizing on-camera performance in Iowa," Politico tweeted.  As Eric Bradner from CNN noted , "Beto O'Rourke does a TON of town halls. Tonight, it showed."

The ups and downs of O'Rourke's week were summed up in a breathless horse race account in Politico . “ Beto busts out at CNN town hall ,” it reported. “ Lagging in the polls, the Texan delivers a strong performance onstage in Iowa .”

The political weather vane swings, and O'Rourke lives to fight another day.
Meanwhile, on the de Blasio Trail…
The numbers were even less kind to our mayor this week. An astonishing 35% of respondents in Quinnipiac's national survey held a negative view of Bill de Blasio, leaving him with a minus 21 percent favorability rating. 
"New poll reveals the least-liked Democrat running for President," reported  NBC .

The numbers triggered yet another round of devastating press, and threatened to re-enforce, not challenge, the spate of coverage treating de Blasio’s campaign as a national joke.

After all, if you were an assignment editor, would you spend resources sending a reporter to Iowa or New Hampshire to write a story about de Blasio - outside of how badly it’s all going?
Here and There
Eliza Collins  leaves USA Today for the WSJ to cover the 2020 race… Samantha Henig leaves The Times to spend the summer adventuring with her husband and daughters “somewhere very far from Times Square”… De Blasio’s campaign continues to grow. Jon Paul Lupo, Steve Jarding and Jim Crounse join as senior advisers; Mike Giaccio becomes director of finance, and Olivia Lapeyrolerie becomes traveling press secretary.
“There is a reason why anybody has to swallow hard and think twice before participating in this media ecosystem.”  - Pete Buttigieg at Fox News Town Hall.
Have a career announcement for Here and There? A Quotable quote?
Kirtzman Strategies is a strategic communications and public affairs firm that works with public officials, nonprofits, companies, tech startups and education organizations.
Kirtzman Strategies | |