Biden Relishes in One-Two Punch of Sanders, Obama Endorsements

Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama’s back-to-back endorsements this week cemented the Democratic Party behind Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee and demonstrated the careful calculus of party leaders to unite its once-warring progressive and moderate wings.

First came the vanquished rival. The Biden camp wanted Sanders to endorse before Obama to ensure the Vermont senator was genuinely behind the campaign, according to a Democrat familiar with the campaign’s strategy. It also allowed Obama to swoop in to close the Democratic contest, using his power as the party’s undisputed leader to unite the factions represented by the two candidates.

The danger for Biden is that with the coronavirus pandemic sidelining political events, he may miss the full effect of what could have been one of his biggest campaign moments to date. With the nominating convention potentially in doubt, he can’t afford to miss too many other headline moments, especially with an incumbent dominating the day’s headlines with a daily briefing.

Despite private communications with Biden and Sanders over the past few weeks, Obama had always planned to wait to publicly weigh in on the race until there was a nominee. From the outset, he made it clear he did not want to put his thumb on the scale for Biden. But when Sanders dropped out of the race last week and did not issue a full-throated endorsement of his opponent, Obama stayed silent, safeguarding his ability to come in as a unifying figure later.

“If he had done it earlier, it would have looked like he was trying to push Sanders out,” Joel Benenson, Obama’s longtime pollster, said about the timing of Obama’s endorsement.

He added, “You don’t jump into the ring and declare a winner when the contest was still going on unless there was a TKO and there wasn’t a TKO.”

For weeks before Sanders dropped out, the Biden and Sanders campaigns had been discussing ways to find common ground on policy and personnel, but they didn’t want a public perception that Biden was trying to hasten Sanders’s exit. That effort culminated in a live-stream endorsement from Sanders on Monday. Biden and Sanders, appearing together, praised each another and announced the formation of six policy task forces to find compromise on key issues.

With Sanders on board, the Obama endorsement video was rolled out Tuesday. In his nearly 12-minute remarks, which Obama wrote over the past week and was taped in the last few days, the former president praised Biden and advocated for all Americans to support his bid, displaying the unifier role he has long sought to play.

He also devoted a portion of the video to complimenting Sanders, who he said, “has devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams and frustrations.”

“We both know that nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change,” Obama said of Sanders and his supporters, adding a little nostalgia for his own campaign promises of hope and change. “And the ideas he’s championed, the energy and enthusiasm he inspired, especially in young people, will be critical in moving America in a direction of progress and hope.”

More than that, Obama made the progressive case for Biden, in the hopes of avoiding the bitter feelings that many believe hurt Hillary Clinton after she defeated Sanders for the nomination in 2016. In the endorsement video, Obama also nodded to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who centered her campaign around calling for structural change.

“If I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008,” Obama said. “The world is different; there’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future. Bernie understands that. And Joe understands that. It’s one of the reasons that Joe already has what is the most progressive platform of any major party nominee in history. Because even before the pandemic turned the world upside down, it was already clear that we needed real structural change.”

Powerhouses Homebound

With Sanders and Obama on board, the Biden camp must decide how to deploy the two powerhouses when they can do little more than stream video from their homes. Obama is expected to play a significant role in fundraising, but his exact role remains unclear.

Biden still has work to do to win over Sanders supporters, many of whom remain skeptical of the former vice president and the outreach he’s made to them. Obama, who remains the most-liked Democrat, plans to play an elder statesman role in that process, but his administration’s record also came under scrutiny as Biden ran his primary campaign. But, the good news for Biden is that the reconciliation process has begun much earlier than it did in the 2008 or 2016 cycles.

“The quest for unity is a timeless journey and we recognize that,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “We must earn every vote. At the same time, we are so much better off as a party right now than we were in 2016. We had a record number of candidates, and I am confident that every candidate who did not make it to the mountain top is going to be a full-throated surrogate for Joe Biden and his running mate.”

— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein

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