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Joe Biden has bolted to a large lead in polls of the Democratic presidential race.

A supposedly wide-open race thus resembles a certain conventionality, with the most recent Democratic vice president surging as the obvious heir apparent, which would be run of the mill.

Biden surges largely because of African American support vital to almost any Democratic nomination, along with the establishment theory that he is the best bet to defeat Donald Trump and the fact that no one else other than Bernie Sanders, who may have a low niche ceiling, is much stepping up.

And, as The New York Times reported over the weekend, Biden has so far relieved his aides by not committing a gaffe through his never-met-a-stranger gabbiness.

Biden gaffe? Go to and search those two words. You'll get more than 400 results. That's not to say Biden has committed more than 400 gaffes, though he might've. It's to say Politico, a relatively young news organization covering only a recent portion of Biden's long career, has used that phrase close to his name more than 400 times.

The closest to a gaffe that Biden seems to have come in his latest and young formal candidacy was when he said China was led by fine people and was no economic competition to the United States.

He took it back two days later, saying he hadn't meant China was no economic competition to us when he said China was no economic competition to us.

We will hear more about that--clearly--in a general election if Biden gets to it. His son, Hunter, already is the subject of negative right-wing media coverage of business dealings in China and Ukraine--about which, indeed, more needs to become known.

My nomination for the most serious recent Biden gaffe came last year, well before he was an announced candidate, when he dismissed millennials' concerns, saying, "The younger generation now tells me how tough things are--give me a break. No, no. I have no empathy for it. Give me a break. Because here's the deal, guys. We decided we were gonna change the world, and we did. We did. We finished the civil rights movement in the first stage. The women's movement came to be."

Today's millennials--or many of them, anyway--surely are unimpressed with Biden's generational chauvinism that dismisses the student debt they're carrying that rivals many of his generation's home mortgages. They might wonder why his generation so abused the planet that their very existence is threatened. They might wonder why his generation started pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they fought.

Perhaps that is why, in all Democratic polls to date, Biden leads all groups except whites 34 years of age and younger. What may save him is that Sanders gets a plurality of those but is sharing them with Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, mainly.

Biden leads a national average of polling with 41 points, lapping Sanders at 14, Warren at 8, Kamala Harris at 7 and Buttigieg at 6. His leads are more precarious in Iowa and New Hampshire--23-17 over Sanders in Iowa and 28-15, again over Sanders, in New Hampshire. But those are states famously devoid of black voters, who otherwise dominate Democratic presidential primaries.

Look, then, to South Carolina, the third big primary, where two-thirds of the Democratic voters are African American, and which is probably Biden's firewall. He leads a new poll 46-15 over Sanders, with Harris, Warren and Buttigieg limping at 10 and under.

Walter Mondale beat Gary Hart for the Democratic nomination because of the black vote, which offset high-end white liberal support for Hart. Bill Clinton beat Paul Tsongas because of black support. Al Gore over Bill Bradley--ditto. Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton--ditto.

The only exception was Michael Dukakis, whose white liberal support outpolled Jesse Jackson's black vote in 1988. That merely demonstrated that the black vote alone can't dictate a nomination. It can only decide one if supplemental to some measure of white support.

So we have a front-runner, as clearly as Mondale was, and Dukakis, and Bill Clinton, and Gore, and Obama, and Hillary Clinton in 2016 over Sanders.

We should keep ears open whenever Biden is speaking and eyes open should Warren, Harris or Buttigieg begin to break from the pack and take support from Sanders.

Otherwise, and as yet, 2020 doesn't look much different than any other Democratic nomination cycle.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Web only on 05/15/2019

Print Headline: Uncle Joe by a mile

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