When a woman screamed “You can hug and kiss me anytime!” to Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenSanders to join Ocasio-Cortez in headlining Green New Deal rally Monday Michael Bennet a welcome addition to the 2020 Democratic field Prospective 2020 Dem Steve Bullock teases ‘big announcement’ in new video MORE at a campaign rally in Las Vegas this week, the candidate looked like had more to say.
A laughing Biden, caught off guard, paused and looked down at his lectern. A few seconds later, he simply responded with the sign of the cross.
“That’s very nice, thank you,” he finally offered, still chuckling.
“Well, uh, on a serious note…” he then said before pivoting back to his stump speech.
It was a small moment for the former vice president, but his allies say it was also an important one.
The old Joe Biden, they said, might have made an unscripted, headline-inducing comment in response to the fan’s remark.
The new Biden contained any impulse to make a one-liner, and allies say that kind of self-discipline is what he needs to maintain his frontrunner status in the Democratic primary.
“He’s hyper-focused and locked in on how he needs to run this campaign,” said one ally who has had conversations with Biden about the campaign launch.
Biden is running a different kind of campaign than he ran in 2008, and his successes so far have surprised onlookers who thought he might struggle in the race’s initial stages.
He’s been successful on the fundraising stage, he hasn’t had any major gaffes and his polling numbers are strong nationally and in early voting states.
A Monmouth University poll in New Hampshire this week showed him winning twice the support of Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersWarren, Nadler introduce bill to allow student loan borrowers bankruptcy relief Co-founder’s call to break up Facebook energizes its critics Sanders to join Ocasio-Cortez in headlining Green New Deal rally Monday MORE (I-Vt.), his closest rival.
To be sure, Biden is only two weeks into the race, but the strong start has his supporters voicing confidence that the planning that went into his entry — months after his rivals —is paying off.
“He was criticized for not jumping in the race but what he was doing was taking the time to understand the landscape,” the ally of Biden’s said. “More than anything, he understood that he had to be focused. It was a mindset.”
The 2019 version of Biden has been a disciplined one, a contrast to his years as vice president when he caused unwanted headlines during the Obama White House with off-the-cuff moments, such as when he described the passage of healthcare reform legislation as a “big f*cking deal.”
“He knows he has a tendency to be a gaffe machine,” said one source close to the vice president. “It sounds trite but he really has put a lot of thought into things and it has made him really careful and disciplined.
“He’s in a good headspace and if you’re in a good headspace, your staff is in a good headspace,” the source added.
Those close to Biden say he understands what it means to be the frontrunner.
“He’s happy to take on that mantle,” one ally said.
As Biden mapped out his presidential run, aides and allies warned him that it was going to be a “brutal” campaign. They pointed to allegations by women who accused him of inappropriate touching, Democrats who blasted him for being too cozy with Republicans and progressives who attacked his more centrist record.
Biden would listen, often responding with a “I know, but I’m ready.”
Right off the bat, Biden made necessary adjustments to the criticism he received for his public displays of affection. “He has been very aware of the criticism,” one longtime aide said.
Appearing on ABC’s The View this week, Jill Biden said her husband “heard that message. He heard it loud and clear.”
Part of the strategy was showing voters that he is the presidential candidate, wanting to bring back the “dignity of the oval office,” as one longtime aide put it.
To that point, his campaign releases a “Daily Guidance,” a schedule traditionally released by The White House tracking a principal’s whereabouts.
He has also allowed a “pool” of reporters into fundraising events, where in the past, he had a tendency to occasionally go off-script. Aides and advisers around him will often remind him of the press in the room.
In those fundraisers, he has largely stuck to the issues, talking about the middle class, global warming, healthcare, and education.
At the same time, he has limited his questions from the big-dollar crowds, eliminating the possibility of gaffes.
Last week, at a fundraiser in Columbia, S.C., Biden was asked by one supporter if he would give Trump a nickname.
“There’s so many nicknames I’m inclined to give this guy,” Biden said as the crowd laughed, according to one pool report. “You can just start with clown.”
This week, at fundraisers in Las Vegas and Los Angeles—where a crowd of Hollywood A-listers helped Biden raked in $700,000, he did not take questions from attendees.
But he did do a photo line, where donors had a chance to ask questions, according to one attendee.
Those around Biden say the last two weeks have proven that he can break the myths and stereotypes around him.
When a supporter at the Las Vegas rally on Tuesday yelled “Trump is Hitler! Get rid of Hitler! Come on, Joe!” some thought it would provoke Biden to go off script.
Biden didn’t take the bait.
“I’m not gonna stoop down to his level,” the former vice president said. “The president has deliberately attempted to divide this nation, and he’s decided to be president for his base. I’ll be president for all Americans.”