Joe Biden Is Sounding Like a Pundit, and He’s Bullish on a Certain Former V.P. 1

DECORAH, Iowa — Joseph R. Biden Jr. insists he is the front-runner in the Democratic primary race. He cites polling in battleground states. He suggests that his coattails would help down-ballot candidates win around the country. And he worries aloud about how his answer to a given question might play in the news media (“No matter how I answer that, I’m going to get clobbered,” he observed recently aboard his campaign bus).

As he runs for president, Mr. Biden, the former vice president, has also taken on another role: self-appointed political pundit for his very own primary race, holding forth on the nuances and mechanics of the contest at every turn in the manner of a commentator on cable news.

Mr. Biden has always proclaimed his ability to take on President Trump, but as the Iowa caucuses near, his punditry is reaching a fever pitch in interviews, at fund-raisers and on the campaign trail. He has taken to narrating the race with an unusual level of detail, assessing not only his standing in the primary race but also how he would fare in the general election in specific states around the country.

Not surprisingly, he has a rosy view of a certain former vice president’s chances.

“I’m not counting on the polls, but the fact is that I’m ahead in every one of the tossup states by a substantial margin in most places,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Atlanta last month.

Campaigning in Waverly, Iowa, this month, he told the crowd, “One of the things we have to look at is who is most likely to go out there and help, if they’re the nominee, elect Democrats in states that we need to win.”

“Right now, I’m the guy who is able to win,” Mr. Biden added. “I beat Trump in every one of those states, from Montana to Ohio to Pennsylvania to North Dakota — I mean, excuse me, North Carolina — to Florida, to Texas, etc.”

Hypothetical general-election matchups are, at this early stage of a volatile race, hardly predictive, and Montana, for one thing, is not generally viewed as a battleground state. And for all of Mr. Biden’s touting of surveys, his own polling picture in the Democratic primary is decidedly mixed: While he maintains a lead in national polls and in available surveys in Nevada and South Carolina, he has struggled this fall in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first states to vote in the primary race. A weak showing in those two states could harm Mr. Biden’s efforts to cast himself as the safest choice in a general election.

But for now, despite a host of missteps and controversies this year, a major factor in Mr. Biden’s national resilience in the race is the perception, among some voters, that he is best equipped to defeat Mr. Trump. With the Iowa caucuses fast approaching, Mr. Biden and his backers are presenting a sustained and detailed pitch about his ability to land swing voters and help Democrats up and down the ballot, a message that has been on vivid display recently during trips to Iowa and on the fund-raising circuit.

“He’s got experience and empathy, but a fair amount of his appeal is also the assumption that he could beat Trump, and he doesn’t want to lose that edge and so he may be leaning into that,” said David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former chief strategist. “It’s pretty unusual. Generally speaking, you leave the handicapping to your strategists and your spokespeople and your supporters, and you talk about vision and direction. But there isn’t anything usual about anything this election year.”

Mr. Biden is hardly the only candidate to talk about his political strengths, in a campaign in which Democrats are fixated on the question of how best to defeat Mr. Trump. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota invokes her electoral success in competitive political territory. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., plays up his roots in the industrial Midwest. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont embarked upon a “Bernie Beats Trump” tour of Iowa in September. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who promises sweeping change, warns that a Democratic nominee lacking far-reaching ambitions would lose to Mr. Trump.

But the case for Mr. Biden, as expressed by the candidate and his surrogates at recent campaign events, can be especially blunt.

“Here are three reasons why Joe Biden is the only person for this election,” Mr. Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, told a crowd in Des Moines last month. “No. 1 is the polls. All of the polls show that Joe Biden is the strongest match against Trump.”

During Mr. Biden’s “No Malarkey” bus tour in Iowa in the days after Thanksgiving, Tom Vilsack, the former agriculture secretary and Iowa governor, also invoked general-election polls against Mr. Trump. “If you take a look at the polls today, and if you take a look at the polls throughout this entire campaign, the one person who’s consistently ahead by a large margin is Joe Biden,” Mr. Vilsack said.

At another event, Mr. Vilsack’s wife, Christie Vilsack, offered the same pitch, citing “the polls in states that will really matter in this election, like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, just to name a few.”

Mr. Biden’s punditry goes far beyond his ability to compete in battleground states.

He has assessed his standing in the primary field (“I am the clear front-runner in the party,” he told reporters in Atlanta last month). He has cited how he fares against his fellow Democrats (“I lead all the national polls nationwide by double digits, against everybody, consistently,” he told Telemundo, though his lead was in the single digits in many recent surveys).

He has brought up his favorability rating in Iowa (“It’s in the 70s,” he told NPR, though the latest Des Moines Register/CNN poll found it to be 64 percent among likely Democratic caucusgoers). And he has boasted of his support among specific demographic groups, such as black voters (“I have more people in the African-American community supporting me than anybody else,” he said at an education forum in Pittsburgh on Saturday).

He has even spoken philosophically about the importance of the Republican Party’s continued existence. Speaking to a group of reporters on his campaign bus in Decorah this month, he fretted about what would happen if “we win big and the Republicans get clobbered.”

“I’m really worried that no party should have too much power,” he explained. “You need a countervailing force.”

Beyond his own electoral prospects, Mr. Biden argues that his mere presence atop the ticket would help Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, loudly treading into territory that is often discussed quietly among party strategists.

“I may not be able to win Georgia, I think I can, but I may not be able to win it. But I can help elect a United States senator from Georgia,” Mr. Biden said at a fund-raiser in Las Vegas last week. “Folks, it’s important not only, ‘Can the person we nominate win?’ Can they be helpful to increasing the size and scope of the Democratic Party locally as well as statewide? And I hope and I think if the numbers are true, I think I can do that.”

While Mr. Biden and his allies emphasize polls that are good for his campaign, they do not appear eager to draw attention to other surveys that are less positive.

Last month, hours after Dr. Biden cited general-election polls as she made the case for her husband, Mr. Biden faced a question about Mr. Buttigieg’s apparent strength in Iowa. “We talk about the polls,” Mr. Biden told reporters. “At this point I don’t think they mean a great deal.”

And despite his tendency to talk about polling, at times Mr. Biden appears to be relying on something less scientific: his gut feeling.

“Forget the poll numbers,” Mr. Biden said on his campaign bus in Decorah, insisting that every one of the reporters sitting before him knew that he had the best shot at helping a Democrat win in North Carolina.

“I don’t have to go out and look at a poll,” he said. “Just go into those states. You can feel it. You can taste it.”

Thomas Kaplan reported from Decorah, and Katie Glueck from New York.