One almost sensed from the breathless coverage of women who decided years later to object to former Vice President Joe Biden's non-sexual hugs and pats and kisses on the head that they expected the media to think it would be a fatal or near-fatal blow to Biden's presidential chances. Not only was it not fatal, it didn't register as particularly relevant to most Democratic voters. He was atop the polls before these stories aired, and he is atop them now.
Biden has been in the public eye since the 1970s, and unlike Hillary Clinton, who claimed the public never really knew her, voters feel as if they know Biden pretty darn well. Many voters don't remember anything before his vice presidency, his demonstrably warm relationship with President Barack Obama, his remarkable dignity after the death of his beloved son Beau, and his emotional goodbye to the late Sen. John McCain. He has established a level of emotional intimacy with voters that few politicians attain. He's the chatty next-door neighbor, the avuncular relative and the co-worker who remembers everyone's birthday.
This does not mean, however, that they are going to vote for him for president. Voters can be clear-eyed and unsentimental when it comes to picking a nominee, especially when Democrats are so very desperate to unseat this president. However, it does suggest that character issues are not going to do him in. They've seen Biden's character on display and, barring some truly horrendous revelation, are unlikely to dump him over a "scandal," or I would suggest, his conduct in the Senate, which is ancient history for many voters.
They are also unlikely to decide he's not progressive enough. Being vice president to the most progressive president we've had (including his role in seemingly pushing Obama forward on gay marriage) has its advantages. Moreover, the media periodically lapses into the delusion that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are representative of the entire party.
The recent Monmouth poll of Iowa voters is instructive: Biden not only leads, but has a 78 percent favorability rating and support from the kind of Democrats who show up in primaries - moderate, older voters. Biden has support from 44 percent of seniors and 35 percent of self-described moderate and conservative Democrats. Among lower income/working-class voters whom Democrats have been desperate to attract, he gets 38 percent. Those kind of voters - not self-identified socialists, not Bernie activists on social media - are numerous and dependable voters. And they're not exactly the kind to punish him for hugging people in distress.
The most important hurdle for Biden and for his competitors will be convincing voters he can beat President Donald Trump. Right now, Biden has a big advantage. "While issue positions are important to Iowa Democrats, the overwhelming majority (64%) prefer to have a nominee who would be strong against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues," the pollsters found. "If they were forced to choose, just 24% say they would favor a candidate who they are aligned with on the issues even if that person would have a hard time beating Trump. Biden garners more support among voters who prioritize beating Trump (33%) than he does among those who are looking for issue alignment (15%)."
If Biden doesn't campaign well, gets his ears boxed like Warren did on her claims of Native American heritage, stumbles in debates, starts tanking in polls against Trump, or seems otherwise unsteady, voters could well conclude he's not the safest pick.
He's unlikely to falter because of a perceived character fault or ideology. Democratic voters know exactly who he is, and they like him an awful lot.