While being practically removed from the news cycle due to coverage of President Trump and COVID-19, behind the scenes, Joe Biden has been waging a campaign to boost his popularity with young progressives.
Apparently the Biden campaign sees that the lack of enthusiasm among the liberal base, particularly young voters, is the biggest weakness of his candidacy.
According to multiple sources familiar with the former VP’s campaign, since his landslide victories earlier this month, Biden’s advisers have engaged in talks with a range of top progressive groups, including some that endorsed his chief rival, Bernie Sanders.
The outreach to left-wing organizations and individuals — representing causes from climate change and immigrant rights to gun control and mobilizing underserved black and brown communities — is focused on young activists. Broadly speaking, that particular demographic has viewed Biden as one of the “least-inspiring” candidates in the sprawling Democratic primary field.
It’s a delicate dance for both sides. For one, Sanders is still in the race. Plus, the progressives recognize that their time and ability to influence Biden is limited since he’s all but wrapped up the nomination. Still, Biden needs to fix his enthusiasm deficit, which was partly masked by his wins this month, and it’s far from certain that animosity toward President Donald Trump alone will be enough to defeat the popular incumbent president.
“The dirty little secret is everyone’s talking to Biden’s campaign,” said Sean McElwee, co-founder of the liberal think tank Data for Progress. “There will be fights, but at the end of the day, progressives still hold votes in the Senate and increasingly Democratic voters stand behind our views. I expect we’ll see Biden embracing key planks of the ambitious agenda progressives have outlined on issues like climate and pharmaceutical policy.”
Biden aides are taking a two-pronged approach. They’re reaching out to what they see as traditional progressive groups with longer legacies such as Planned Parenthood, with which the campaign held a long call ahead of the most recent debate, and movement groups that came of age more recently, including liberal organization Indivisible and climate change-focused Sunrise Movement.
Biden has also backed proposals from Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in recent weeks on the issues of student debt and free college, respectively.
Progressives believe they have leverage because Biden has lost badly among young people to Sanders, and largely trailed among Latinos, too. They also argue that aggressive action on climate change action and Medicare for All, poll well among Democrats.
None of the groups that the Biden campaign is courting has threatened to sit out the election if Biden doesn’t embrace its positions. For instance, Justice Democrats, which made a name for itself backing primary left-wing challengers against more moderate Democratic incumbents — including several with ideological profiles similar to Biden — said in a statement it is “definitely going to support whoever the nominee is.”
But the fact that Biden’s campaign sees the need reach out to these groups, shows that while he may have the support of their leaders, he still has a long way to go to appeal to their memberships at large.