Vice President Joe Biden has been pondering the 2016 presidential race and lately that thinking has been done in a more public way: meeting with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over the weekend, receiving President Obama’s blessing to run, and seeking out senior Democratic staff members and fundraisers. The question is, if Biden enters the race now, does he have a chance of winning the nomination?
Political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller (the authors of the book The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform), would likely issue a strong advisory to Biden not to make what is likely a hopeless bid. According to The Party Decides team, party elites have become strategic in coalescing around a favored candidate in the year before the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary.
Party elites (elected officials, key donors, allied interest group leaders, and other insiders) generally pick the candidate before the first caucus or primary happens. When party insiders successfully coordinate on a candidate, they bestow substantial advantages that are very difficult to overcome. In that context, the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary are far less important than the key decisions that were made the year before.
The 2016 Democratic nomination race seems to be a perfect illustration of this theory. Compared to the chaos on the Republican side, Democratic Party elites have been well-organized in lining up their support for Hillary Clinton. She has received endorsements from a long list of current and former Democratic Senators, Representatives, and Governors — including some who endorsed Barack Obama over her in 2008. She has outraised Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by a substantial margin, collecting big checks from some of the heaviest rollers in Democratic Party politics.
She also has put together a very experienced team of campaign professionals: John Podesta as campaign chair, Robby Mook as campaign manager, and several other staffers who once worked for the Obama administration. With Clinton’s fortress of endorsements, fundraising and a campaign dream team, it is hard to see how Biden can be afforded a real chance of tearing down her frontrunner status.
Biden has said he will decide whether to run by the end of the summer — Sept. 22. Meanwhile, Clinton is working on branding herself as the inevitable Democratic nominee. Even if the controversy surrounding her State Department email server continues to fester, it is hard to see how Biden would succeed in persuading the diverse array of Clinton supporters to defect.
As a result, The Party Decides has a good chance of getting the Democratic nomination right this time. The Republican Party nomination race is another story.
Crossposted from the website of the Institute of Governmental Studies.