For the past few months, the Republican nomination fight has been the only game in town when it comes to compelling American political stories. While Republicans have traded barbs about birthright citizenship, the Patriot Act, and the general, well, Trumpiness of leading candidate Donald Trump, Democrats have been a snooze. In most years, that would be a good thing for the party—let the Republicans tear each other apart, allowing the Democratic candidate to come after a wounded animal in the general election next summer.
That only works, though, if you have a strong candidate ready to go. And, as of now, the Democrats don’t. Instead they have two major candidates, both of whom alienate a massive segment of potential primary voters and undecided or centrist candidates in the general election. Hillary Clinton is viewed as the ultimate Democratic insider, cozy with Goldman Sachs and other firms on Wall Street. That irks both the left wing of the Democratic party and Main Street voters throughout the country.
Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, is a self-avowed socialist. Even if he somehow managed to pick up enough disaffected former Clinton-supporters to win a nomination from the Democratic party, that just isn’t going to fly in a general election, especially not in crucial swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Michigan.
In recent days, though, rumors have circulated that Vice President Joe Biden could consider jumping into the race, potentially bringing on Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts—the politician preferred by many in the party’s progressive wing for her stance on Wall Street regulation—as his running mate before primary voting even begins.
Despite some of the risks Biden brings—he’s 72, he’s prone to gaffes, and he carries some unneeded attachment to the sitting president at a time when most of the country seems ready to move on from the Obama era—this could be exactly what Democrats need to steady the ship and keep their claim on the White House.
Biden cuts right down the middle on income inequality, an issue that, according to a recent Brookings Institution study, is important to 90% of Democrats, second only to energy on the list of topics they want candidates to talk about. Biden isn’t as strident about using government to fix income inequality as Sanders is, but he isn’t perceived as being as tight with the big banks and other “one-percenters” as Clinton is.
Though this perception may not be entirely accurate—according to OpenSecrets.com, employees of credit card company MBNA have donated the most to Biden over the years—this, to be frank, isn’t really about accuracy. It certainly isn’t about how any of the candidates would govern. This is American politics, and its all about perception.
A Biden-Warren ticket could capture Clinton partisans who are tired of the scandals that seem to follow Hillary everywhere she goes. Warren’s presence could reignite the leftist wing of the party that was activated by President Obama but has largely become disillusioned with the party. And, if Biden promises to serve only one term as some have suggested he will, he could pitch himself as bridging a gap between the Obama/Clinton years and a Democratic party future driven by Warren, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, or perhaps even also-ran candidate Martin O’Malley.
Right now, the Democrats seem lost. They have an issue that everyone cares about, but no candidate seems to be able to speak to in a broad enough way. Biden could be the one to fill that gap.