This has been a stellar week for Joe Biden

This has been a stellar week for Joe Biden
By Daniel Schwen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Team Biden's strategy for securing the Democratic nomination is straightforward. They invoke Obama whenever the opportunity arises--and sometimes when it doesn't. To whatever degree possible, they're staying above the fray of the primary campaign and projecting the image of a presumptive nominee--Biden focuses most of his fire on Trump. And his staffers have limited his schedule, especially late in the day, to minimize the opportunities for him to make his infamous gaffes.

Circumstances this week played perfectly into that strategy.

With three weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses, nobody laid a glove on Biden during the final Democratic debate before people vote. Elizabeth Warren may have won the night, according to FiveThirtyEight's polling, but Biden came into the night as the frontrunner and escaped unscathed. That was at least in part due to the nature of the Iowa caucuses, where candidates have to worry about alienating those who support their rivals because when other candidates fail to reach the threshold for viability in the first round, their backers are up for grabs in the next.

When you're up by 8 points in the national polls, have a lead in three of the four first states and your improbable task is to keep your head down during a heated primary campaign, the spectacle of an impeachment trial and all-consuming news like Trump coming to the brink of war with Iran offered Team Biden an excellent opportunity to fly under the radar.

Beginning next week, Biden's top two rivals will be jurors in a Senate trial that will provide little opportunity for grandstanding while he--and all of the other candidates except Sen. Amy Klobuchar--will continue to press the flesh in Iowa and make their case to potential caucus-goers.

And this week also featured the race's two progressive candidates engaging in a media-driven feud--first, over some talking-points distributed to campaign volunteers and then devolving further as Sanders and Warren clashed over what was or wasn't said about the viability of women candidates during a private conversation a year ago--rather than going after the former vice president. In addition to representing an opportunity cost for his opponents' campaigns, the fracas set (some very online) Warren and Sanders supporters at each other's throats, potentially making it harder for one of the progressives to consolidate support from the left flank of the party down the road.

According to this week's Monmouth University poll, only 43 percent of Iowa Dems have firmly decided on a candidate. The race is still very fluid, and there are likely to be some surprises when people actually start voting--surprises that may totally reshape the race as the process moves forward. And with around a quarter of likely primary voters leaning toward him, Biden remains a relatively weak front-runner. But at least for the moment, everything seems to be coming up Biden.

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