NATIONWIDE — "America is at a crossroads," former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said, speaking in a pre-recorded video that aired on the first night of the Democrats’ unconventional pandemic-era convention.
The Republican had an apt setting to emphasize his point: He stood at a literal crossroads, between two paths splitting in an Westerville, Ohio, field.
Forgive me if I carry the metaphor further, but I think it may be illustrative of the political geography Joe Biden finds himself in.
Winning elections can traditionally be roughly cut into two strategies: Exciting the party base and appealing to voters from the other side.
President Donald Trump has a lopsided approval/disapproval index. Democrats can’t abide by him – just 5 percent approve, according to a recent Gallup poll. Among Republicans, though, it’s 90 percent. (It’s 39 percent among Independents).
Biden is banking that fervent distaste for Trump will inspire enough Democrats, and a sizable chunk of independents, to vote for him. But he’s also leaning on Republicans and conservative independents to cross over, and vote Democratic. If you will, he’s banking that these two paths – who otherwise may be split ideologically – will converge.
Democratic convention organizers devoted a sizable chunk of time to a quartet of former Republican lawmakers who say they’re voting for Biden: Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor of New Jersey; Meg Whitman, a longtime business executive; Susan Molinari, a former congresswoman from New York City; and Kasich, who is also a former candidate for President who lost to Trump.
Kasich got the most airtime. There was the expected talk about country over party, and the dangers Kasich and other Republicans believe a second Trump term poses.
But this line really drew my attention:
"I'm sure there are Republicans and independents who couldn't imagine crossing over to support a Democrat," Kasich said. "They fear Joe may turn sharp left and leave them behind. I don't believe that because I know the measure of the man. He's reasonable, faithful, respectful. And you know, no one pushes Joe around."
Airtime for the Republicans came amid lingering blowback that Biden isn’t progressive enough. It’s dogged him throughout the 2016 campaign, with Democrats ultimately prizing his perceived electability in the general election over anything else.
Still, that concern lingers – that Biden will be something of a sellout to corporations, to name one worry. That line probably didn’t help.
Democrats, in turn, fret that progressives will stay home, or opt for a third party – although there appears to be far less enthusiasm as of now for the Green Party ticket.
It seems Democrats decided that the reward of going for Republican crossovers was worth the risk.
"There is a real possibility that giving airtime to Republicans during the Democratic convention will alienate progressives in the party," Katherine Cramer, a professor of political science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in an email to Spectrum News. "But the Democratic party is trying to do the careful balancing act of appealing to those voters as well as to more moderate voters who identify as Democrats or independents. There is definitely room for the Democrats to make headway with those folks."
Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator and former candidate for President, stepped into the breach. He cited some differences with Biden – but also gave every impression that a vote for anyone other than the Democrat was dangerous.
"Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Trump golfs," Sanders said.
"As long as I am here, I will work with progressives, with moderates and, yes, with conservatives, to preserve this nation from a threat that so many of our heroes fought and died to defeat," Sanders said.
The message: Follow him to Biden’s side.
Or, to go back to that path metaphor, that yet another passage is converging on the Biden Road. The question remains: Where does it lead?