Hillary, Bernie & Now, Maybe Joe

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A few miles off the Ohio Turnpike west of Youngstown, a homemade sign billowed in a breeze along a rural highway.
“Run Joe Run” it read.

Presumably, someone there was pining for Joe Biden to run for president.

The prospect of the vice president jumping into the 2016 race was always a possibility; he left that door wide open earlier this year, when he said he would decide by summer's end. Earlier this month a New York Times column outlined just why that might happen.

Whether or not he runs is only part of the story of why some Democrats are looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton, again.

The truth unfolds into two competing factors when you hear from Democrats in states like Ohio or Pennsylvania as to why support for Hillary is wilting, support for Bernie Sanders is surging, and some people are becoming wistful for Joe Biden.

Let's start with Clinton.

“It's becoming clear that the problem with Hillary is not Obama, it's not Mark Penn, it's not Patti Solis Doyle, and it's not Bernie Sanders,” said media consultant Bruce Haynes of Purple Strategies, a Washington consulting firm, referring to some of the people behind Clinton's failings in the 2008 campaign and to today's insurgent candidacy of Sanders, Vermont's independent socialist senator.

“The problem,” he said, “is Hillary.

“She is the New York Jets of American politics. All the damage comes from inside her own locker room. The blows are from her own non-campaign, her own (Internet) server, her own emails, her own foundation, and her own remarks,” such as how she and Bill left the White House “dead broke.”

The toughest opponent Hillary Clinton faces is Hillary Clinton. And she's losing to her.

As she shrinks — and recent polls show that shrinkage is real — the law of politics abhorring a vacuum takes hold, Haynes explained. The same thing is happening with “angry Republicans desperate for leadership (who) didn't hear a voice in tune with them” and who have turned to Donald Trump.

Many working-class Democrats see in Hillary an out-of-touch elitist tripping over rules she made up as she's gone along. While Bernie Sanders makes millennials and celebrities swoon, other folks just see a goofy socialist, according to Haynes.

Democrats who don't live on Park Avenue want to hear an echo of their struggle, their pain, their concerns about the future, said Haynes: “Enter Joe Biden, the same Joe Biden who has always been the champion of working-class Democrats ... who was a bridge to those Democrats for the current president.”

And the same Joe Biden to whom we were reintroduced during the tragic death of his son, Beau; who has been a thoroughly likeable, relatable, decent human being despite his many gaffes.

The second problem for Democrats is the disappearing coalition that swept Barack Obama into office in 2008 and 2012. The party's identity politics and coastal wings have not found a candidate who speaks to them personally.

The writing on the wall — that the Obama coalition would not hold — was always there, yet most experts never looked at the wall. If they had, they would have perceived post-Obama problems in the midterm election waves of 2010 and 2014.
Both elections totally rejected Obama's policies with historic defeats for Democrats in races for governor, U.S. Senate and House, and state legislatures across the country.

Apparently, Obama's celebrity only works for Obama.

The pregame for 2016 shows that all the elements of Obama's stitched-together coalition are competing for their own wants and needs; in many cases, individual factions feel entitled to be the Democrats' ascendant wing.

American politics doesn't work that way, however. Just ask Republicans: In 2008 and 2012, when their competing factions didn't get what they felt entitled to, they didn't show up to vote.

As the Obama force-of-personality fades, the Democrats' problems — who they are, what they stand for, how they pull all of that together and move forward — is a question that no one knows how to answer for certain.

And that is why you see soft support for Hillary, an insurgency for Bernie, and homemade signs urging Joe to run in rural America.

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at szito@tribweb.com
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