Biden is already running the smartest campaign and a lot of data points are showing this. While most candidates are rolling out the usual laundry list of issues and plans that only a few of us pay any attention to, Biden is saying something very simple and powerful that folks understand: The biggest issue we face as a nation is literally personified by Trump: that Trump is making a mockery of the idea of American leadership, the idea of enlightened leadership for a troubled world and our great nation, etc. Biden is speaking plainly about how Trump (and the Republican Party) is simply not up to the task.
And I think Biden is also getting at rising fears about how fragile our civic, legal, and political systems are and how vulnerable our country is to being led basically back into civil unrest and the breakdown of the rule of law and into autocracy: all of these things so much more easily than any of us ever thought possible. I suspect he has lots of polling/data that has identified this as a key issue for most persuadable and newly motivated (a la 2018 midterms) voters. Buttigieg too is getting a lot of traction because he is addressing this same issue by actually modeling what a young, competent, and thoughtful leader might look and sound like (a lot like Obama, actually, at least soundwise ;)).
He also apparently realizes that PA, MI, WI, and OH are the ticket to winning in 2020 and that unions, many of which are still strong in these states, were once the backbone of working-class political power and the Democratic Party, and represent an indispensable component of a strong Democratic resurgence in the key industrial states that Hilary lost. That’s why he went there first.
I don’t believe Hilary lost because she was a moderate any more than that Trump won because he was the better candidate. Hilary lost because she’s a woman (sexism) and because Trump managed to catch and ride the wave of resentment that had grown through decades of stripping the working class of dignity and living wages.
I sincerely doubt that the presidential race will be a contest of competing policy proposals or visions of capitalist vs socialist solutions. This is not what most people think about or have any clue about. We, of course, need public discussion about new directions and solutions to climate change, poverty, health care, and so much more. But Trump’s erratic behavior and belligerence will by definition make the race about Trump.
I think both Biden and Buttigieg are the only two thinking clearly about this race: It’s about Trump and giving people the choice of a leader and leadership based in decency and other fairly traditional normative values that Trump has defaced and degraded. As I’ve said in other posts, I think people want first and foremost domestic tranquility and normality, not the overturn of even more systems and endless “revolutionary” initiatives. I do actually think that the Green New Deal will have legs precisely because it has the feeling of a resolute but “gentle” way to rally around a world-leading, inherently benevolent national purpose.