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Eye On Candidates
October 22, 2015

Biden’s Decision Helps Clinton … and O’Malley?

The decision by Vice President Joe Biden not to seek the Democratic nomination for president is likely to have an impact going forward, although it’s not entirely clear what that impact will be and whom it will help the most.

Early evidence from one poll of Democrats in Iowa suggests former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may benefit most, although not by a wide margin, as The Hill reports:

Poll: Democratic race in Iowa heats up

The Democratic presidential race is heating up in the early voting state of Iowa, with support solidifying for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in a new poll.

Without Vice President Joe Biden in the race, Clinton leads Sanders by 7 points, 48 to 41 percent, in the Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register poll released Thursday….

Before Biden announced he wouldn't run, 12 percent of likely Iowa caucusgoers supported him. Without him, Clinton's support increases 6 points and Sanders's increases 4 points.

Breaking down the numbers, with Biden factored in Clinton held a five-point lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which grows to a seven-point lead with the vice president out of the race.

Over at Bloomberg the duo of Jennifer Epstein and Margaret Talev write that Biden’s decision not to run is a win for Clinton:

Joe Biden's decision to not to run for president represents another victory for Hillary Clinton, whose own campaign continues to gain momentum. 

The vice president's entry into the Democratic field would have shifted the dynamics of the race, creating new challenges—and adding new costs—for the Clinton campaign. Instead, the Democratic front-runner's team can stay the course it set months ago, with no other establishment opponents and only one major opponent in the primary, Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator has strength with certain constituencies but is struggling to build support among African-Americans and Hispanics….

Clinton also faces challenges in solidifying union support, though Biden's decision to stay out of the race removes an important competitor.

While Clinton has voiced opposition to the so-called Cadillac tax on health plans and also the Trans-Pacific Partnership, key unions, including AFSCME and the Communication Workers of America, have held off on endorsing her in the Democratic primary in part because of support for Sanders among rank-and-file members, labor sources said.

“This clearly opens the field for massive labor support for Hillary. They want somebody who’s electable,” said Stuart Eizenstat, a former domestic policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter who is a Clinton supporter and longtime Biden friend.

Over at The Washington Post, Paul Kane and Karen Tumulty concur that Biden’s decision bolsters Clinton’s hopes:

Vice President Biden’s announcement Wednesday that he will not seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination has given a further boost to resurgent front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and clarified her terms of engagement with Bernie Sanders, who is waging a challenge from her left….

Polls indicate that, had Biden jumped in at this late stage, he would have drawn votes primarily from Clinton. The two come from the same center-left sector of the Democratic Party, have similar long-standing institutional ties and allegiances within the party, and can both claim relevant national security and legislative experience….

With Biden’s decision, the Democratic primary has become a two-way race between Clinton and Sanders, a senator from Vermont who describes himself as a democratic socialist. Sanders has been drawing massive crowds of exuberant supporters across the nation, and he nearly matched Clinton’s fundraising in the most recent quarter.

While the consensus is that Clinton benefits the most, there’s another possibility as well. Biden’s appeal in part was that he would provide a “fallback” candidate for Democrats concerned that Clinton might stumble or face further scandals and who also felt Sanders would fare poorly in a general election. With Biden out, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley seems the most likely candidate to step up if needed.

The piece is a year old, but Eli Lehrer of the R Street Institute suggested this in the Baltimore Post-Examiner last September:

…[I]n the off change that she does decide not to run or stumbles badly in the Democratic primaries, it’s not outlandish to think Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley could be the next Democratic nominee….

He has big-city street cred: As the only former big city mayor among the serious potential candidates on either side, O’Malley has urban-center clout that nobody—not even Hillary—can match.  Democrats’ ability to win swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio largely depends on their ability to turn out voters in urban centers. O’Malley can do that. Such voters are also important in primaries. Other Democratic candidates, including Hillary, are largely untested in this regard.

He’s friendly with the Democratic Party’s kingmakers: To a large extent, success in the Democratic Party’s primary process is determined by one’s relationship with the major groups that make up the party’s base: organized labor, women’s groups, big-city political bosses, environmental activists, government contractors,  public employees, Hollywood liberals and trial lawyers.  O’Malley has been friendly with all of these groups while governor of Maryland…. While O’Malley hasn’t thrilled all of these groups all the time, he hasn’t seriously offended any of them either.

He’s won’t scare anyone: While O’Malley holds a variety of standard-issue liberal positions that put him a bit to the port side of the median voter, he’s not cut from the same cloth as potential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose broad-based attacks on free markets will alienate many….

O’Malley clearly hasn’t managed to launch a serious challenge to frontrunners Clinton and Sanders yet, and he may never get the chance. But with more than three months until voting begins in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, it seems likely that at some point the media will tire of the binary Clinton vs. Sanders storyline, especially if there remain substantial questions in many Democrats’ minds about the electability or suitability of either of the two, and look for an alternative. O’Malley is clearly positioned to be the beneficiary of that moment; the question is whether he will be able to capitalize on it.