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Why Biden?

Former US Vice President Joe Biden is almost certain to be the Democratic Party's nominee to challenge President Donald Trump in November. Biden's emergence at the front of a once-crowded field caps what may be the most significant and unusual US presidential primary ever.

WASHINGTON, DC – The most significant and unusual contest – possibly ever – to nominate the challenger to a sitting United States president is effectively over. Former Vice President Joe Biden – written off by most observers until his triumph in South Carolina last month and victories in other Southern states turned the race around – now has such a commanding lead in delegates over his rival, US Senator Bernie Sanders, that it’s virtually impossible for Sanders to overtake him. Biden’s double-digit wins in the three states that voted on March 17 – Florida, Illinois, and Arizona – doubled his lead to more than 300 delegates. (Ohio postponed its primary because of the COVID-19 pandemic.) Sanders, having signaled that he’d quit the race (after last Sunday night’s two-man debate), has now done so again.

After a dismal start in Iowa and New Hampshire (where he finished fourth and fifth, respectively) and an unimpressive finish in Nevada (a distant second to Sanders), many had written Biden off. And yet he quickly flipped the narrative, owing to a few key factors: the unrepresentative nature of heavily white Iowa and New Hampshire, the strength of the black vote in the South, and the moving endorsement of Biden by Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and the most powerful African-American political figure in South Carolina (and possibly the entire South). But, most important, there was a change within Biden himself.

As Clyburn recently explained the candidate’s transformation to me, no sooner had an uncertain (and rusty) Biden entered the race than he was hit by attacks over his sole surviving son, Hunter, who joined the board of a large Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, at a time when Biden, as Barack Obama’s vice president, was charged with dealing with Ukraine’s widespread corruption. This made Biden defensive; then, as Clyburn put it, “accusations from women about his being a touch-feely guy” intensified Biden’s unease. As Biden was trying to adjust to all this, Clyburn said, “he got hit upside the head over busing” by rival candidate Kamala Harris, a US senator from California. Biden was a longtime civil-rights supporter, but mandatory busing of black students, often over long distances, to integrate white schools was deeply unpopular with his working-class constituents. (As it happens, Clyburn, too, had opposed busing, which many African-American families also didn’t like.)

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