Former Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday morning that he would run for president in 2020, his third time giving it a go.
Biden ran for and lost the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, a fact that the Republican Party quickly jumped on.
“Joe Biden has been running for president and losing since the ‘80s, 2020 won’t be any different,” wrote Republican National Committee Communications Director Michael Ahrens in a statement.
Of course this election is considerably different than his prior two, Biden is entering the race as the top contender, constantly polling at the top of the field. Having served as vice president, he has some of the highest name recognition out there as well.
But what went wrong those last two times and how will Biden avoid the same pitfalls?
In 1988, Biden was a well-respected 45-year-old senator from Delaware, often compared to Senator Ted Kennedy. But upon entering the race, his campaign quickly fell apart. He dropped out before any primaries.
Despite having more funding than any candidate but Michael Dukakis, he began to lag in poll numbers. That summer, Biden was accused of and later admitted to plagiarizing parts of a speech from a British politician, putting an effective end to his candidacy. It was later discovered that he had exaggerated how well he had done in law school.
But it wasn’t just the plagiarism that sunk him. In a September 1987 Washington Post post-moterum of his campaign, Rowl Evans and Robert Novak wrote that Biden’s staff, “blame their own candidate, because of his managerial deficiencies and, more important, because they began to believe that he was at heart a synthetic candidate with nothing to say.”
Biden’s fate, they said, was “sealed by an inability to reconcile demands of liberal special-interest groups with the necessity of appealing to a broader base.”
By 2008, the senator, then in his sixties, decided to run once more. Much like in 1988, Biden took years to weigh his decision to enter the race, first publicly considering it in 2004 on the Don Imus show. Also like in 1988, Biden intended to run as a moderate Democrat, right in the center of the field.
This time, Biden made sure to focus on substance, particularly on strategy in the Iraq War. But Biden lacked the name recognition of candidates like Hillary Clinton and rising-star Barack Obama. His decision to over-correct for a lack of policy in 1988 put too much focus on Iraq strategy in 2008 and made him appear as a one-issue candidate.
His campaign was also filled with a number of gaffes. Biden called Barack Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” By January of 2008, Biden’s poll numbers were low, people still didn’t know who he was, and he had placed fifth in the Iowa Caucus, gaining only one percent of the vote. He left the race.
This time around, Biden will not struggle with name recognition: He’s starting the race as the front-runner which will help him bring in large donations. He’s also the candidate polling best against President Donald Trump, which brings him credibility. Electability is an important factor to voters.
That seems to be what he’s banking on. Biden has a bad history with primaries, but maybe this time, he can just treat the entire race like a general election.
Biden, who’s likely appeal to those same voters who elected Donald Trump in 2016, is expected to officially begin his campaign this Monday with a rally at a union hall in Pittsburgh, and has worked to play up his ties to organized labor.
“There were three reasons Barack Obama chose Biden as a running mate: his foreign policy chops, his debating skills and the third was his appeal to working class voters, particularly in the Midwest,” said Larry Rasky, a consultant who worked on both of Biden’s previous presidential campaigns, to Politico. “He delivered on all three of those accounts. Those ethnic, blue collar voters, what we refer to as ‘Reagan Democrats,’ they are the people we need to turn the Electoral College on Trump.”
But in order to get there, Biden will have to win the Democratic primary and beat out what has become a very crowded and diverse field. His centrist appeal might work in a general election, but it has failed him in his two previous attempts to make it that far.
“Energetic, smart Joe Biden kickoff video,” wrote David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama. “Essentially bypasses the primaries and goes right to the main event, assailing Donald Trump, putting Charlottesville front and center; framing the fight as a titanic struggle for American values.”
But as much as he may want to, Biden can’t just bypass the primaries. He has a long year of campaigning ahead and will need to compete against his fellow Democrats before he can face Trump.