Joe Biden created a minor stir in Boston this week, generating a small crowd of selfie-seekers and surprised lunch-break strollers as he toured a few blocks of the Seaport with Mayor Marty Walsh. Having sneakily positioned myself inside press-cleared Martin’s Park — to the great and perhaps ever-lasting consternation of the former vice president’s press team — I asked the Democratic presidential front-runner if he thought he could land Walsh’s endorsement.
Biden sidestepped my question, indicating his was just a friendly visit. This visit, perhaps. But you can bet that visions of political sugar plums were dancing in his head. Like, say, this kind of headline: “Biden nabs Walsh endorsement from under Elizabeth Warren’s nose.” Biden, after all, is old enough to recall the embarrassment it caused Democrat Mike Dukakis when Republican George H.W. Bush dashed into Boston to receive the nod of the Boston police in the 1988 campaign.
Speaking later with reporters, Walsh said he’ll wait and see before deciding whether or whom to endorse, noting that he also has good relationships with Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Senator Warren, and finds Senator Kamala Harris of California impressive.
None of that, however, compares to his bond with Biden. As vice president, Biden went out of his way to be helpful to Walsh, who took office the year after the Marathon bombing. Since leaving office, Biden has called to discuss politics and to offer and seek advice. No surprise, then, that he was asked to preside when Walsh was sworn in for a second term in January 2018. Watching the two of them walking and talking with construction workers in Martin’s Park, you couldn’t miss their easy familiarity.
“Sometimes you just click with someone,” Walsh told me regarding Biden. “Sometimes you meet someone and you just feel like you have known that person forever.”
Nor is a close friendship all they share. They also have in common a core constituency: blue-collar voters. Asked on Wednesday if Biden appealed more to his own base than the two Massachusetts Democrats in the race, Walsh had a nuanced response: “I think in Massachusetts, the building trade guys have a real affinity for Elizabeth Warren as well.” He then added: “The question is, what is it like around the country?” and noted that Democrats have to win blue-collar voters in the Midwest.
So who can best do that? Too early to tell, said the oh-so-diplomatic mayor. Maybe. Still, blue-collar appeal is obviously a Biden strength. Further, not only do polls show him beating Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, but on the day of his Boston visit, a new survey had him besting Trump in Texas, a state whose defection from the Republican column would reorder the Electoral College map. Two caveats: Warren herself was basically tied with Trump in Texas, and Texas often looks tantalizingly in play, before reverting to Republican form.
Put it all together, and it wouldn’t at all surprise me to see Walsh bestowing an early primary season endorsement on Biden. Certainly some in the Biden camp are hoping for, if not quite expecting, a pre-New Hampshire nod.
Now, that’s obviously trickier if Warren becomes a stronger contender for the nomination.
But though she has won strong reviews for her progressive-policy-proposal-peppered campaign, she hasn’t yet seen the kind of rise in the polls that might lock Walsh into neutrality. To get there, she’ll first have to leapfrog Bernie Sanders. And though she’d be a better general election candidate than Sanders, right now he’s leading in the left lane. Thus just as Sanders is an obstacle that the other challengers first have to scale to challenge Biden, the Vermont senator’s solid second-place status, if it endures, would make it easier for Walsh to back Biden.
So keep your eyes peeled. This Biden visit may well have been a casual spring swing, but the next time the former VP appears with Walsh in Boston, something bigger could be afoot.