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Democrats in competitive down-ballot races hold out on endorsing Biden

Biden 2020 campaign rocked by 1993 allegation
Biden 2020 campaign rocked by 1993 allegation... 03:13

More than a dozen Democratic House incumbents and several Senate candidates in competitive races have yet to endorse Joe Biden, nearly a month after the former vice president became his party's presumptive presidential nominee. The holdouts underscore challenges facing Biden as he prepares to lead a party fighting to defend a House majority and win back the Senate. 

Some candidates who have yet to formally endorse Biden include Representatives Tom O'Halleran of Arizona, T.J. Cox of California, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Lauren Underwood of Illinois, Jared Golden of Maine, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, Susie Lee of Nevada, Antonio Delgado of New York, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Ben McAdams of Utah and Kim Schrier of Washington state.

All are members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's (DCCC) "Frontline" program to buoy members in "tough seats." 

"Joe Biden was able to go into many of those [Trump] districts and campaign with these new members of Congress and help get them across the finish line," Congressman Ami Bera of California told CBS News.

Bera, who co-chairs the DCCC program for vulnerable House Democrats, was a key surrogate stumping for Biden in the race's early contests. Bera expects all House Democrats to eventually line up behind Biden, chalking up the holdouts to a "matter of timing."

"I think all of us feel that Vice President Biden has long coattails. His policies, his leadership experience are going to be a sharp contrast with President Trump and in this presidential election that contrast is going to matter, but also at the congressional level," said Bera.

The former vice president's "coattails" have long been a central focus of his campaign. As the race narrowed, some warned that competitors — like Bernie Sanders — posed a risk to incumbents in uphill reelection bids. At a campaign stop in January in Nevada, home to two potentially vulnerable incumbents, Biden highlighted the importance of the Democratic nominee leading down-ballot races. 

"It's not just whether or not the person you pick as the nominee can win. It's whether or not that person you pick as the nominee can bring along a Democratic Senate. We need to win back the Senate like we won back the House last time," Biden said. 

And when Biden received the endorsements of former rivals Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke on March 3, O'Rourke in a fundraising email specifically highlighted down-ballot races, writing "having him at the top of the ticket will help our down-ballot candidates, especially in Texas." 

The most vulnerable incumbent Democrats in the Senate have all endorsed Biden, but several waited until Sanders dropped out to do so. Senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Gary Peters of Michigan endorsed the vice president in mid-April. 

There is no more heavily targeted incumbent Democratic senator than Doug Jones in Alabama, and he endorsed Biden the day Biden launched his campaign. Jones has told The Washington Post he expects to campaign with Biden this fall. 

Several candidates challenging incumbent Republicans in battleground states have yet to officially endorse Biden. Those candidates include John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, MJ Hegar in Texas and Raphael Warnock in Georgia.  

Most of the 13 vulnerable House members refrained from endorsing anyone during the heat of the presidential primary. Three — McAdamsRose, and McBath — backed Michael Bloomberg before picking Biden. Hayes endorsed Senator Kamala Harris in July. Golden supported Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado days before the New Hampshire primary. 

Dan Sera, who led Democrats' efforts to flip the House in 2018, said some races benefit from making a reelection argument that doesn't ride on the presidential race.

"Remember, this crop of people was viewed as incredibly independent from the Democratic party," Sera said about the freshman House Democrat class. "I think there are places where you have to ask, what else is going on politically?"

Horn's campaign said that she will most likely vote for Biden, but is also looking to replicate the surprise success House Democrats saw in 2018 by keeping the races hyper-local. In 2018, Horn pulled off the upset against Republican Steve Russell, winning by less than a one-point margin. 

"I don't think we get anything out of [endorsing], I don't think they get anything out of it. We're not going to run from the nominee at all, but we're not going to lead with that either," a source close to the Horn campaign said.  

Republicans have been aggressive about trying to tie targeted Democrats to the national race, and, more recently, to an allegation of sexual assault against Biden, which Biden has denied. While many Republicans have not necessarily indicated they think the accusation has merit, they have attacked Democrats for using what they say is a different standard than was used for allegations of sexual misconduct against Brett Kavanaugh. 

On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee targeted House Democrats and candidates for either their silence on the issue or their past comments during the Kavanaugh hearings. 

"I think in a very real way, Democrats have to answer for it. Because we saw, I know how Democrats used the Kavanaugh allegations every single day. And they have painted themselves in a corner with their own hypocrisy," former NRCC communications director Matt Gorman said. 

One of Biden's earlier endorsers, Congresswoman Dina Titus of Nevada, said she didn't think the allegations would have an impact on down ballot competitive races. Like other comments from top Democrats, she showed support for the overall #MeToo movement while pointing to Biden's overall record on legislation like the Violence Against Women Act.

"Every woman needs to tell her story and have it vetted. And I believe it's been thoroughly vetted by The New York Times and other press," she told CBS News. 

Since early on in the cycle, Republicans have also been using the larger debate about socialism during the presidential primary to target vulnerable House Democrats.

"They're going to be tied to the national ticket. And they're going to have to own the radical socialist policies that Joe Biden got from Bernie Sanders and has largely endorsed,"  NRCC spokesperson Michael McAdams said.

Cunningham, who flipped South Carolina's first congressional district in 2018, was vocal about his opposition to some of Sanders' policies during the primary. He has not endorsed Biden but a campaign spokesperson said Cunningham voted for Biden in his state's primary and plans to do the same in the general election.

"If people want to take that as an endorsement, they can take it as an endorsement. But right now, he's focused on helping constituents get through the pandemic, not on the presidential race," a Cunningham campaign spokesperson told CBS News.

But with the outbreak slowing the pace of the campaign and the party's nominating convention still months away, some Democrats also see an opportunity for Biden to grow his down-ballot efforts.

"You know one thing about having a presumptive nominee relatively early in the cycle, it's really giving Joe Biden the gift of time to unite the party and begin building a strong general election operation," says Tori Taylor, Swing Left's chief political officer. 

The liberal organizing group has ramped up its virtual resources amid the pandemic, which include efforts banking on presidential and Senate wins.

"There are going to be millions and millions of dollars deployed on all sides in this election. When we have this time and the ability to really work together as a party and as a progressive movement, that's when we're able to deploy and organize those resources in the most strategic ways," Taylor added.

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