2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia
Joe Biden is running ahead of the other presidential candidates in just about every poll. This has upset a number of opinion writers, who believe American voters are wrong. Don’t pay attention to surveys showing Biden is most likely to beat Trump, they say. A candidate’s electability isn’t important, they argue. Electability is just a “delusion.”
Fortunately many Democratic voters – including those in the Carolinas— are showing more political savvy than the commentators.
The essential argument against Biden is that he’s is too old, too establishment, too capitalistic, too white and too male to truly be Democrats’ first choice. Women, minorities and younger voters now dominate the party, some opinion writers argue, and these voters really want a candidate that looks like them. In their hearts, commentators say, voters prefer a progressive change agent over a moderate consensus builder like Biden. Civility in government is so yesterday.
So far, South Carolina’s Democrats aren’t listening. Last week’s Charleston Post and Courier poll shows they continue to favor Biden by a large margin. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg take the number two and three slots. African-American candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker follow.
South Carolina’s Democrats — most of whom are African American — don’t seem to care about the received political wisdom which says they should prefer black candidates. They reject simplistic identity politics in favor of a more sophisticated political analysis.
They think beating Trump is job number one, and — unlike the opinion writers — they learned the fundamental lesson of the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats of all stripes came out to check the power of the unpopular president. Turnout increased across demographic sectors, but it was primarily college-educated, suburban women who were responsible for sweeping out congressional Republicans, giving Democrats control of the House.
Then, despite pundits who said Nancy Pelosi was too old, too establishment, too out-of-touch and too white to be House Speaker, voters saw Ms. Pelosi become the one person in Washington who could stand up to the president. The old lady is now one of the most effective speakers in American history.
Let me be clear: I am not saying Biden is the best candidate. The race is just beginning; voters will finally hear from less well-known candidates in this week’s televised debates.
But I agree with South Carolina’s voters that it is ill-advised to ignore polling which shows Biden can beat Trump in deep red Texas as well as purple North Carolina. Choosing a candidate who excites progressives but worries suburban women and blue collar workers makes no sense. The argument that huge numbers of young liberals will carry the day without a broader coalition ignores the lessons of 2018.
North Carolina Democrats understand that as well. They prefer Biden by a large margin. According to an Emerson poll from late last month, however, North Carolina’s Independents want Sanders. If large numbers of Independents vote in the Democratic primary, that could affect the outcome.
Electability is a critical issue here. A candidate with broad appeal will have coattails in purple states like ours. A progressive may excite large numbers of young voters, but they could leave North Carolina red, hurting Democrats in the state’s close gubernatorial and Senate races.
Voters in the Carolinas are showing more political wisdom than the national pundits. Electability matters. Because, as Mr. Biden is fond of saying, if you can’t beat Trump, nothing changes.