5 Questions That Will Determine if Joe Biden Can Succeed

Mr. Biden’s announcement video was about one big promise to voters: He would eject Mr. Trump from office and lead a country that they could be proud of. Asked by a reporter outside a pizzeria in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday afternoon about his message for the rest of the world, he said “America is coming back” and said his administration would be “ethical, straight, telling the truth.”

But the traditional American values Mr. Biden extolled may only go so far in inspiring voters, both in a primary and a general election. Some of his Democratic competitors already have well-developed signature proposals that have helped to define their candidacies, like Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All Act, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to forgive student loans and Senator Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” program. Mr. Biden has nothing comparable, at least so far.

Mr. Biden may start to fill in this blank space on Monday, when he is to visit a Pittsburgh union hall and speak about the middle class and the economy. But it is unclear whether he will be inclined to develop sweeping policy plans, or whether he will stay close to his roots as a moderate who favors political compromise and incremental change.

The risk to Mr. Biden, if he takes too long to define his vision for the future, is that he might come to be seen mainly as a figure of nostalgia — a candidate of the past.

So far, the most important fund-raising in the Democratic race has happened online. And several of the most prominent candidates, including Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, are fueling their campaigns almost exclusively that way.

Mr. Biden’s approach will be different, and far more reliant on the largess of the wealthiest benefactors of the Democratic Party. His aides have already spent more than a week encouraging donors to send $2,800 checks — the maximum sum allowed — to his primary-campaign-in-waiting, and a Comcast executive who oversees the company’s lobbying division was hosting a major fund-raiser for Mr. Biden in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

The financial challenges for Mr. Biden are twofold. He must raise an immense amount of money rapidly, without the benefit of a robust online fund-raising machine of the kind some of his rivals possess. And Mr. Biden must raise that amount without stoking suspicions among Democratic primary voters that he is compromised by his dependency on big money.

[Mr. Biden started his campaign with $0, when other candidates had already collected millions.]

The latter danger — that “Middle-Class Joe,” as he styles himself, could come to be seen as a candidate of rich people and corporations — may be especially vexing to Mr. Biden because his record on banking and corporate regulation has already drawn sharp criticism from the left. Yet, without having spent years cultivating an online donor base, and lacking the novelty factor that has helped other candidates soak the internet, Mr. Biden appears to see little alternative to seeking out the biggest checks possible.

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