Sunday Thoughts: Coalition Building

When the Democratic Primary for President started I made the supposition that the eventual winner would be the one who could best navigate the diverse coalition of the Democratic Party. What I never thought would happen is the quick coalition around Joe Biden and perhaps I underestimated him. What has become obvious is Biden is not only good at rolling out these endorsements but his team values them and their symbolism.

The cynics will obviously point to the unseen hand of the DNC or other boogeyman to downplay this, but I would posit they are the same people who believed that winning 305 of the primary vote would be enough to unite the party. And no this is not just about Sanders. Every candidate in the Democratic field seemed to make this play. Moderates as well as liberals looked hyper triangulate the democratic coalition by focusing on one part of it and then hoping they could convince the other parts at a contested convention or late in the primary system.

Only Biden seemed to make a play to unite larger segments of the party together. His coalition of moderate older white voters, African Americans, and suburban women voters turned out to be a sizable advantage. However Hillary Clinton had the same coalition yet didn’t have the enormous success of coalescing the Democratic Party as Joe has. Part of that is surely due to Trump. His presence in the race is unifying in and of itself, and anyone who achieved front runner status. However HRC’s camp treated endorsements as obligations where it seems Biden views them as capitol and investing in them.

Endorsements don’t just happen. They take tons of work behind the scenes and coordination by surrogates and yes, the candidate himself. One would be tempted to write off the endorsements of Buttigiege and Klobuchar right before Super Tuesday as moderates coalescing. And if they ended up being the only ones, then it could be a fluke. However after Super Tuesday nearly every former presidential candidate ended up dropping out and endorsing Biden.

Again being the front runner after Super Tuesday can be an explanation, but it is also clear in looking back on these endorsements is that time and energy was invested in gaining them and rolling them out. Each endorsement added to Biden’s coalition. Booker helped cement his support in African American communities, Beto Orourke mad an appeal to center left idealists, Yang and yes even Gabbard cemented fringe parts of the coalition. All of these former rivals where not only given time and space to endorse, but they were not vilified while they took time to make up their mind. Kamala Harris is the best example of this. She left the race months earlier but was never vilified by the Biden team for staying neutral as Warren was by parts of the Sanders coalition.

Biden’s endorsement strategy culminated with the Sanders, Obama, Warren and yes Manchin endorsements over the last week. As Biden built a commanding lead he never attacked Sanders personally and allowed him to be the FIRST to endorse him after he dropped out. It would have been tempting to have Obama go first, but he gave Sanders the prime spot to bring in as many of his coalition as he can. Then he followed that up with Obama to reengage the only coalition that received majority support for Presidential candidate since 2004. Warren’s endorsement was again an appeal to women in the party. And finally the Manchin endorsement once again reaches out to moderates and conservative Trump Obama voters in rural communities.

Will any of this matter in November? Well that is the work that Biden needs to do now. He still has an age issue. Voters under 30 may not vote in large numbers but they can be a tipping point in an election and Biden must now start the long work of winning over a group that is skeptical of him. He can do that through policy positions during the convention and maybe a younger Veep pick. It’s the last part of the Democratic coalition he hasn’t been able to get…yet. It shouldn’t be written off and looking at what Biden has done over the last two months I don’t think he will.

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