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How Joe Biden has cleared the 2020 field — and how he hasn't

Image: Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign event in New Jersey on Oct. 1
Former Vice President Joe Biden. Copyright Mel Evans AP file
Copyright Mel Evans AP file
By Chuck Todd and Mark Murray and Carrie Dann with NBC News Politics
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First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.


WASHINGTON — In one way, former Vice President Joe Biden's anticipated entry into the 2020 presidential race has started to clear the Democratic field.

This week alone, both former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said they were no-gos.

But here's another way to look at it: Biden's likely entry has BARELY cleared the field. Outside of Bloomberg and Brown, Democrats already have 12 major candidates running — and that number doesn't include Biden, Beto O'Rourke, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

That gets you to a whopping 17 candidates.

Think about how other vice presidents or prominent political figures have shrunk past presidential fields:

  • In 1988, it was Vice President George HW Bush versus Bob Dole, Pat Robertson, Jack Kemp and Pete du Pont.
  • In 2000, it was Vice President Al Gore versus Bill Bradley.
  • In 2016, it was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (almost kind of like a vice president) versus Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley.

Yet Biden's situation — if he gets in — is more akin to Jeb Bush in 2016 (who cleared Mitt Romney, but faced more than a dozen other contenders) or Hillary Clinton in 2008 (who competed in a talented field including Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and, yes, Joe Biden).

What Biden's anticipated entry has done is that it's started to clear one lane - the white male/moderate-leaning lane (although, to be fair, Brown is hardly a moderate).

But what it hasn't done is scare off anyone else.

What Biden said about race and busing in the 1970s

Speaking of Biden, the Washington Post unearths this HIGHLY problematic quote from him on race and busing from the 1970s.

"I do not buy the concept, popular in the '60s, which said, 'We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race,' " Biden told a Delaware-based weekly newspaper in 1975. "I don't buy that."

Joe Biden's greatest strength is that he's been in the mainstream of American politics for the last 50 years.

And that's his greatest weakness, too.

It raises the question: Can the Democratic Party we saw nearly melt down this week over Ilhan Omar handle Biden's past - whether it's busing, race or Anita Hill?

Manfort gets 47 months in prison — and likely more

Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, was sentenced to just 47 months in prison - far below the expected 19 to 24 years, per the sentencing guidelines.

And that relatively light sentence has legal observers crying foul.

"As a former prosecutor, I'm embarrassed," said NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, per NBC's Dennis Romero. "As an American, I'm upset ... I am just as disappointed with Judge Ellis. It's an outrage and it's disrespectful of the American people."

But remember, Manafort faces a SECOND sentencing hearing next month, so it's possible/likely he gets more time than 47 months.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Bernie's gonna to party like it's 2016

We've said before that one of Bernie Sanders' greatest challenges for 2020 is moving BEYOND 2016 - especially given all of the raw Democratic feelings from that last campaign.


But in Iowa last night, Bernie was chalk-full of memories of 2016, as NBC's Shaquille Brewster notes.

"In 2016, this state Iowa is where the political revolution began and I thank you very much."

"When I first came here to campaign in 2015, the truth is not a whole lot of people knew who the junior senator from Vermont was."

"On Caucus Night we didn't win 3 percent of the vote; we won 50 percent of the vote and half of the pledged delegates."

"And as a result of what happened here in Iowa, we went on to win victories in 22 states around the country, 13 million votes, over 1700 delegates at the convention and to me what is most exciting is we ended up winning more votes from young people - young people who are black, white, Latino, Asian American and Native American - we won more votes from young people than Trump and Clinton combined."


"So Iowa, you helped begin the political revolution in 2016 and, with your help on this campaign, we're going to complete what we started here. We're going to turn our vision and our progressive agenda into reality."

You know who else likes to talk about his past political victories…?

On the trail today

Bernie Sanders and John Hickenlooper are in Iowa… Michael Bennet and Pete Buttigieg are in the Granite State… Kamala Harris holds a meet-and-greet in South Carolina… Elizabeth Warren has an organizing event in Long Island City, New York… And Howard Schultz is in Austin, Texas.

On the trail Saturday

Sanders remains in Iowa… Harris remains in South Carolina… And Hickenlooper, Warren, Buttigieg, Schultz and Amy Klobuchar are all in Austin, Texas for SXSW.

On the trail Sunday

Sanders hits the Granite State for two rallies… Warren visits Dallas, Texas for an organizing event… And Julian Castro takes his turn at SXSW.


Data Download: And the number of the day is …

Forty-nine percent and 38 percent.

Those are the shares of Democrats who, when asked to choose the top three labels that apply to their ideology, picked "Obama Democrat" and "moderate Democrat, according to arecent Harvard-Harris poll.

An additional 37 percent chose "liberal Democrat."

Those labels were significantly more prevalent than other potential labels that Democrats could chose as their top three, including "progressive" (22 percent), "Democratic socialist" (13 percent) and "socialist" (seven percent.)

So, for all the talk about socialism in the Democratic Party, the biggest chunk of its voters seem to be far more comfortable with the party's familiar recent past and a more moderate bent.


The Lid: Brown bags it

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, in which we looked at Sherrod Brown's no-go decision on 2020, and what it might mean for Joe Biden.

ICYMI: This week's overlooked stories

From NBC's Kyle Stewart: Paul Manafort gets 47 months in jail (and likely more)! Bloomberg and Brown bow out, while Hick gets in! And Ilhan Omar! Those were the stories that dominated the week in American politics.

But these five stories might have dominated any other era.

  1. Trump cancels Obama policy of reporting drone-strike deaths (Remember when liberals and civil-rights groups attacked Obama over drone deaths?)
  2. T-Mobile acknowledges its patronage of Trump's hotel increased after its announced merger
  3. Judge: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross broke the law
  4. Trade deficit soars to record high
  5. U.S. officials made list of reporters, lawyers and activists to question at the border

And don't miss today's other news….

The House passed its resolution condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia - but 23 Republicans were against it (and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, voted "present").


House Dems are poised to passtheir sweeping ethics and campaign rules reform bill.

Trump's advisors are trying to get him to hold offon 2020-style rallies for now.

John Hickenlooper is kicking things offwith an appeal to "fiery" pragmatism.

Kirsten Gillibrandis strugglingto get New York lawmakers to commit to supporting her.

And Steve Bullock is hiring.

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