Biden faces pesky enthusiasm challenge despite big primary numbers

Democrats are growing concerned about an enthusiasm gap between President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE and Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE following a poll that found the former vice president had less intense support than previous Democratic presidential nominees.

The problem is being described by Democratic strategists as a significant problem for Biden, who owns a huge delegate lead over Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) and is seen as the likely Democratic presidential nominee. 

“The enthusiasm gap recorded in the poll is troubling,” Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, said of the ABC News-Washington Post poll. 

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“Everything the president has done since his inauguration was designed to fire up the Republican base, and the effort has paid off,” Bannon added. 

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The poll showed that 74 percent of those supporting Biden are doing so enthusiastically, compared to 86 percent of Trump supporters.

And among those figures, 55 percent of registered voters backing Trump are “very” enthusiastic in their support, with 31 percent “somewhat” enthusiastic, while just 28 percent of registered voters in favor of Biden are “very” enthusiastic, compared to 46 percent who are “somewhat.” 

The figures are particularly concerning given the unique challenges Biden now faces because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The election seems certain to turn on how voters judge Trump’s handling one of the worst U.S. public health crises in more than a century — as well as the economic fallout that is widely expected to trigger a recession. 

Polls show Trump’s approval rating rising, something perplexing to many Democrats who think his handling of the crisis has been poor. 

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“It should be worrisome,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, summing up how Democrats should read the poll numbers on enthusiasm behind Biden. “Given how President Trump has performed in this crisis, support for Biden should be through the roof, but it’s not.”

But the former vice president has been taking steps with an eye on the general election. 

He’s working to mend fences with progressives who supported liberal presidential candidates Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass). In a nod to Sanders, he said he would support making college tuition-free for all students who come from households earning less than $125,000 a year. 

Supporters of Sanders, who has signaled he intends to stay in the race, say that’s a start, but it isn’t good enough. 

“There are many good reasons Bernie should stay in and accumulate enough delegates so we can have a continuing voice on party reform and the platform,” said Larry Cohen, the chairman of Our Revolution, which started as an offshoot of Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

“This does not preclude dialogue between Sanders and Biden on issues and personnel,” Cohen added. “We need compromise and power sharing to build the unity we need to win in November.”

Democrats have been worrying over whether their candidate could defeat Trump throughout their extended primary fight, and there are signs that Biden would turn out voters in heavy numbers this fall. 

The former vice president crushed Sanders in South Carolina and a number of Super Tuesday states, and then won more big victories in Michigan, Arizona, Florida and Illinois in the following weeks. 

African American voters turned out for Biden, as did suburban supporters, a major part of former President Obama’s coalition. 

“The best indicators for Biden are the strong Democratic turnout stats in a number of the primary states through early March,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “The turnout numbers we’ve been seeing mirror Obama-level turnout. What’s more impressive for Biden is that the spike in turnout came from older voters and voters in the suburbs. That’s the way Democrats can win, and that’s the wave that Biden can ride to the White House.” 

In addition, Biden allies also say there’s an ongoing effort to bring all Democrats together by November. In an effort to court young voters, for example, Biden recently wrote an op-ed for Crooked Media — the media company formed by former Obama aides who host the popular podcast “Pod Save America.”

“Now a new group of young people, Generation Z, is coming of age in a time of anxiety about school shootings, crushing debt, and a politics that seems unresponsive or broken beyond repair,” Biden wrote. 

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None of this is a coincidence, the former vice president’s allies say. 

“When this is all said and done, I think we’ll all be on the same page,” said one longtime ally who is in touch with the campaign. 

Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said Biden’s campaign is taking the right approach in reaching out this early. 

“A good campaign should always be worried, but not panicked or overreacting,” Vale said. “A lot of the candidates just dropped out, and Bernie still running. There are still going to be a lot of people that just decided to begin supporting Biden or are still deciding what to do. 

“As people spend more time learning about him and moving past the divisions of the primary to focusing on beating Trump, you will see [the numbers] improve,” Vale continued.

But Team Biden’s unifying efforts are also being complicated by social isolation around the coronavirus, Vale added. 

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“So it’s also not surprising to me that uniting everyone will take longer than usual given everything that is happening right now in the world,” he said.

One former Obama aide said it’s a bad time to take the temperature of how the electorate is feeling with the country uncertain about the future.

“Who is enthusiastic about anything right now?” the aide said. 

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