‘Basement Biden’ stays humble as he closes in on the ultimate prize

What is Joe Biden’s game?

The man trying to topple Donald Trump and win the presidency has spent a lot of the year in his basement.

Never has America seen a candidate racking up so many hours from the comfort of his own home.

Biden supporter Karen says he must persuade people he's not a radical
Image:Biden supporter Karen says he must persuade people he’s not a radical

In the past month he has selectively hit the campaign trail, only to hunker down again in recent days.

He’s always cited safety – his team hoping voters will recognise and reward his prudence.

But there’s perhaps a more subtle strategy they’re also employing – let Mr Trump do the talking and make the mistakes, so Joe doesn’t have to.

His opponent would describe life in the former vice president’s hometown of Wilmington as suitably sleepy right now.

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The local theatre where his team has built a studio for occasional events, shows some very subtle signs of life.

There’s a rumour that the restaurant we’re eating in across the road might be used by him on election night.

If Joe Biden wins, he'll holda low-key celebratio in his home town of Wilmington, Delaware
Image:If Joe Biden wins, he’ll hold a low-key celebration in his home town of Wilmington, Delaware

It is about as humble as you can get for a possible political coronation when you think of the glass-covered colossus Hillary Clinton fatefully chose in New York.

But this is a candidate who’s railed against big rallies and showy moments – a man pitching to restore civility and normalcy to American political life.

Holding a potential star-studded COVID-fest wouldn’t exactly help his cause.

The polls will tell you Biden’s cautious strategy has paid dividends – he’s leading in double digits nationally.

But down at the local skate park in Wilmington, young voters sound either unimpressed or fretful about his socially distanced, low-profile approach.

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Michael has a different take, claiming Biden’s past it politically and pushing him outside is “geriatric abuse”, anyway.

Heading north up the Delaware River to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there’s less scepticism in what is a key swing state.

And just as well for Joe Biden. He needs a big turnout among black and Latino voters in urban centres like this. It could make or break him.

Barack Obama will be campaigning for Joe Biden
Image:Barack Obama will be campaigning for Joe Biden

And Albert’s confident he’ll get it.

He insists the Democrats will get “big numbers,” that all his friends are voting and that Biden will do much better with people of colour than Clinton.

Why? I ask him. “Because I think a lot of people are thinking what I’m thinking – if Biden gets elected president there’s not gonna’ be no talk about building a wall right after the first year.”

Democratic strategists believe four years of racial division in the United States and big demographic changes including a growing hispanic population will make the difference this time round.

US election - a simple guide to the 2020 presidential race

US election – a simple guide to the 2020 presidential race

The fact he’s drafted in Barack Obama to stump for him in the city today, though, is proof his team knows he needs a boost.

It’s a push to add some stardust from one of America’s most popular political figures while reminding everyone Biden worked by his side.

There’s even wild talk he might get the kind of turnout his former boss did in 2008.

That would be stunning for a white guy in his 70s who has a mixed record on race and would say a lot more about the moment than the man.

An hour away in leafy Bucks County is his other key challenge; reassuring suburban voters, who deserted the Democrats in 2016, that he can be trusted.

Albert from Philadelphia is backing Joe Biden
Image:Albert from Philadelphia is backing Joe Biden

That means closing the gap with white non-college educated people.

He doesn’t need to completely reverse the trend, but he needs to seriously chip away at Trump’s appeal among them.

Karen, who’s canvassing for Biden, tells me what he needs: “He has to get it clearly across that he is centrist, that he is moderate – to quell the fears of people who are undecided, that they’re not going to be voting for socialism.”

Biden’s critics call him a puppet of progressives.

His supporters view him as a trustworthy caretaker that will get them out of a disaster.

He is far from an ideal candidate. He doesn’t represent a new generation of leadership.

But his best bet and the thing that is perhaps his best chance of securing victory, is that his opposition to Donald Trump is enough to speak to a new era and rise to the clarion call for change.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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