Julián Castro framed the debate almost perfectly in his opening statement: The 2020 election will be won or lost in a handful of states, starting with Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and maybe a few others like Arizona, where I live. So the question for Democrats remains what it has been all along: Who can beat President Trump in those states?
That’s the thesis for the Biden candidacy. But last night showed that while Joe Biden, the former vice president, is still the one to beat, Elizabeth Warren remains the most interesting and potentially the most formidable Democrat in the race. If Mr. Biden stumbles, Senator Warren will be ready to make her move.
There was no spontaneous clamor for a Biden candidacy. It was created. He was brought out of retirement because a lot of Democrats think he is purpose built to win those three key states. That’s why Mr. Biden didn’t have to win Thursday night’s debate outright. He just had to avoid disaster, show some signs of life and allow his supporters to continue in the belief that they can cover up his frequent gaffes and the inescapable effects of age and carry him to victory on a combination of a prodigious shower of campaign cash and a media establishment desperate to be rid of Mr. Trump.
But Mr. Biden is dogged by both Ms. Warren and her fellow senator Bernie Sanders. Mr. Sanders has plenty of money, is authentic in his beliefs and has a large but ultimately limited base of loyal supporters. He’s also widely despised by Democratic insiders. His campaign can go the distance if he wants to, but he can’t win the nomination.