‘Biden has never won a debate. … And it has worked.’
Larry J. Sabato is the founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and is a contributing editor at POLITICO Magazine.
How many debates have there been this year? Sixty? Seems like it but apparently this was just the sixth. So what’s changed in 2019? Everything and nothing.
Yes, some contenders have dropped out, others have risen, some have risen and fallen again. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that the early national frontrunner is still the national frontrunner. And this debate showed why.
Biden has never won a debate. He’s made a few gaffes, shown his age, and has often practically disappeared on the stage. And it has worked. Mainly, he’s left the sniping to his rivals and posed as the party unifier—aided by the fact that he’s always been positioned squarely in the middle of the stage. The less he says, the fewer chances he takes. The deep well of affection for him as President Obama’s vice president, especially with African Americans, has sustained him, too.
But most of all, Biden is judged—rightly or wrongly—as having the best chance to defeat President Trump. Nobody really knows if that’s true, but for once, winning is the first, second and third priority for most Democrats. The fear of a second Trump term has focused the party’s mind, and the image in the mind’s eye is Biden.
Debates are fun, and educational as well. I have no lumps of coal to put in the candidates’ stockings. Yang and Steyer—often ignored—turned in energetic performances. Sanders was never dull, always blunt and relentlessly honest. Warren’s passion came across, as did a bit of frustration that her current image isn’t the person she believes she is. Buttigieg was polished and informative, a quick study on, well, everything. Klobuchar was impressive; if anyone gained from this debate, she did. Could she now rank highly on the short list of sensible running-mates (if she doesn’t score the big upset to take the top spot)?