The Biden watch is on. And that means the Landrieu watch may or may not be far behind.
The new year is just a week old, but already it’s brought a flurry of activity among Democrats who might take the plunge and run against President Donald Trump in 2020. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, launched an exploratory committee and immediately departed for Iowa, where she drew big crowds. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, is reportedly interviewing potential campaign managers. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, and Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, have indicated they’ll decide soon. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, is busy trying to fend off negative stories of sexism within his 2016 campaign. And the list goes on, and on, and on.
Still, the biggest shoe that could drop, or not, would belong to Joe Biden.
The New York Times ran a story over the weekend quoting people close to the 76-year-old former vice president predicting that he’ll make a decision in the next two weeks, and saying that he’s leaning toward getting in. One factor, they said, is that Biden questions whether the many other potential candidates can defeat the president.
Given his high profile and his popularity, whatever Biden decides will reverberate throughout the field, but few possible candidates have tied their own process as closely to Biden’s as former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has. While others — people like Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s former governor — would also draw from the same pool of support, Landrieu has come out and said that Biden is his preferred choice to take on Trump.
“I would like somebody that knows exactly what they’re doing because they’ve done that before, that can stabilize and just rebalance the country for three, four years,” Landrieu told former Barack Obama political adviser David Axelrod in an interview aired on CNN last summer. When Axelrod said it sounded like Landrieu was talking about Biden, Landrieu said: “I think I am.” Among Biden’s advantages, Landrieu argued, are his understanding of the working class and his preparation to “take over tomorrow.”
Biden has some potential negatives too, and his imminent decision has gotten some Democrats talking about them. There’s his age, at a time when the new generation is clamoring to move into the party’s top tier. He’s a consummate insider, when an outsider might better capture the electorate’s angry mood. He’s got a long Senate record that would be picked apart, some aspects of which could alienate potential voters, including his handling of the Anita Hill hearings so many years ago. And he’s a white male in a party in which diversity is very much a point of pride.
None of these variables is unique to Biden, and all are likely to be topics of heated discussion among the Democrats whether he runs or not. Speaking for himself, Landrieu has acknowledged as much. He’s just 58 and doesn’t come out of Washington’s dysfunction, so he can escape the old-school insider tag despite his many years in public office. But Landrieu also bemoaned the possibility in a November interview with New York Times columnist Charles Blow that his pragmatic approach to politics might not fit the moment.
The last time a Louisiana politician eyed the big stage, there was no doubt as to what he wanted and how he planned to get it. Former Gov. Bob…
“Centrism has come to be known as a lukewarm version of not standing for anything so you’ll stand for everything,” he said. “I call myself, like, a radical centrist. Every organization I’ve taken over has been in, like, meltdown, and I had to build it back up. So, it requires really hard, tough decisions. But, those things always require some level of compromise.”
Landrieu, whose speech and subsequent book about his removal of the several Confederate monuments raised his national profile, also acknowledged the potential awkwardness of a white person talking about racial reconciliation while competing against African-American candidates such as Booker and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, yet another potential candidate.
The interview made it clear that Landrieu’s been grappling with his hypothetical place in a potential presidential filed for a while now. But then, that was 2018. In 2019, things are quickly getting real.
What that means for Landrieu should become much clearer in the coming weeks, once Biden makes his move — or doesn’t.