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Sunday, March 29, 2020

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

One of the unexpected consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been, for all practical purposes, suspension of the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Of course, Joe Biden has emerged from near-oblivion, pulled decisively ahead of Bernie Sanders in the delegate count, and appears headed toward the nomination in July. That’s the conventional wisdom. But the conventional wisdom is always a mixture of truth and wishful thinking. It is entirely possible that Democrats, watching Mr. Biden shelter in place in his Wilmington basement, are more than a little disconcerted by his befuddled aspect, meandering comments and official declarations intended to mollify the Sanders wing of his party.


Writing this week about the Senate’s coronavirus rescue package — or “slush fund,” as his onetime rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls it — Mr. Biden declared that “we can’t let Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell hold small businesses, workers, and communities hostage until they get their no-strings corporate bailout.” Neither Ms. Warren nor Mr. Sanders nor, for that matter, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would have said it differently. Put another way: If Mr. Biden’s appeal is based on his ability to attract independent/centrist voters, what are those voters to make of such remarks?

Such uncertainty may explain an interesting recent development: The untethering of the Cuomo Trial Balloon. It may have been prompted by such pronouncements as quoted above, or it might have been the cumulative effect of Mr. Biden’s notes from underground. We don’t know. But there it is.

To be sure, like most trial balloons, the idea that divided Democrats — including those nervous about Mr. Biden as standard bearer — would turn to Andrew Cuomo might drift swiftly and decisively into oblivion. Yet there might be some validity here. There is palpable uncertainty about the 77-year-old Joe Biden’s fitness for the campaign against Donald Trump, and his long-term prospects. By contrast, Andrew Cuomo is the 62-year-old, three-term governor of New York whose daily televised press conferences on the pandemic project an image of vigorous, well-informed executive action. (In fairness, Mr. Trump’s daily briefings have had a comparable effect.)

Moreover, Mr. Cuomo has been shrewd: He’s picked fights with Mr. Trump when it works to his advantage but also gives credit to Mr. Trump when it’s due. He also stands — or in his case sits — in contrast to the mayor of New York City (and rival Democrat) Bill de Blasio, whose reputation for disorganization and lassitude remains safe.

So Democrats may well be reminding themselves that the last time a New York governor was their nominee his name was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Or mindful of history, they might be thinking of dangers as well. The last time a senior politician stepped in to wrest the nomination from a slate of popular candidates (and without running in a single primary contest) it was 1968 — and Hubert Humphrey was probably fatally wounded by the bitterness of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy fans.

So keep an eye out for Joe Biden skyping from his basement, and Andrew Cuomo sitting center-stage in Albany, and heat up the popcorn.


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