Delaying the expected launch of his campaign allowed Joe Biden to avoid one political landmine while sending him careening headfirst into another, highlighting both the upside and the ugly of slow-walking a presidential rollout.
First the positive of Biden’s postponement. Because the former vice president has dragged his heels into April, he is exempt from the first quarter fundraising sweepstakes that will spill out over the next two weeks. Official candidates must disclose the financial health of their campaigns, posting the amount raised and spent between January and March for the world to see.
Disciplined and rising candidates will have taken in a lot and spent little. Reckless and sinking operations will have a low intake and a high spend rate. Financial resources for a campaign are what gasoline is to a car. When the tank starts emptying and the line gets close to red, the end of the road is usually near.
April is not even three days old, and already we’ve learned that California Sen. Kamala Harris raised over $12 million – an impressive yet expected haul for one of the frontrunners. More surprising was South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the dark horse upstart who has parlayed his recent upswing online into a surprising $7 million dollar posting.
So far, Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders is the leader of the pack with an eye-popping $18.2 million showing in six weeks of campaigning. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a former finance juggernaut, has struggled to keep up with the rest of the pack and recently split ways with her finance team – an ominous omen for a campaign already lagging.
It's likely the world won’t know about Joe Biden’s fundraising prowess until the end of June, although stories have been trickling out about donors skeptical of his ability to navigate the complicated contours of today’s Democrat base.
That brings us to the dilemma resulting from Biden’s slow roll. Because there’s no campaign apparatus, Biden doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle the crisis engulfing him right now. His bare-bones operation was slow to respond to the allegations from Lucy Flores, the former Nevada assemblywoman who accused Biden of kissing her head.
After the news broke Friday, Flores was on television all weekend, while Team Biden relied on two different written statements as their official response. As Politico Playbook noted, “This isn't 2009. On-the-record statements don't suffice.”
These days, the successful campaigns react to allegations with video – ideally a candidate-to-camera recording or a sit-down interview with an anchor. It’s not only how voters get their news in this era of social media, but provides convenient clips for producers to drop into their packages for cable news.
Donald Trump released a direct-to-camera apology hours after the Access Hollywood video threw his campaign into turmoil in October 2016. It didn’t end the storyline, but it helped stop the initial bleeding.
Team Biden hasn’t moved on from the Flores bombshell, and it’s been more than four days, and a second accuser has stepped forward. Yes, supporting statements from former staffers can help, but they are no substitute from hearing from Biden. Sure, old-school Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein have backed Uncle Joe, but the field of 2020 candidates largely has shown him the cold shoulder.
Perhaps the most deafening silence has come from former President Barack Obama, who remains a beloved and trusted voice in the party. Biden is banking on the happy memories of the Obama-Biden years offsetting liabilities in his nearly 50 years in public life, especially where his progressive credentials are under scrutiny.
In politics, when you don’t stop the bleeding, the sharks start circling. Potential endorsers and donors look elsewhere. Right on cue, Axios broke news Tuesday morning that Michael Bloomberg was reconsidering his decision not to run after Biden’s stumbles.
Unlike Bloomberg, Joe Biden will need to build a nationwide fundraising apparatus if he wants to compete. We won’t know until next quarter if he’s able to do that. But the early reviews on navigating turbulent news cycles are in, and they’re not promising.