At long last, Biden enters crowded 2020 Democratic presidential field

Former Vice President Joe Biden finally makes his presidential ambition official after indicating for weeks that he would run for the third time since 1988.

While 19 other Democrats filed to run for the 2020 nomination for president, former Vice President Joe Biden waited and waited.

But months of speculation about when he would officially enter the race to challenge President Donald Trump ended Thursday morning when Biden released a video on Twitter and Facebook to announce his candidacy.

The 6 a.m. video focused on the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That day devolved into fights between white supremacists and counter protesters and “a brave young lady who lost her life,” Biden said.

Biden said was he was horrified by Trump’s reaction to the violence, asserting that the president’s words “stunned the world and shocked the conscience” of America.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“He said there were some ‘very fine people on both sides.’ Very fine people on both sides?” Biden said.

“With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had seen in my lifetime,” Biden said.

Biden also gave a harsh critique of Trump and the prospect of him serving another four years as president.

“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,’’ Biden said. “I believe history will look back on the four years of this president as an aberrant time but if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House we will have forever and fundamentally altered the character of this nation, who we are and I cannot stand by and watch this happen,” he said.

Biden reminds viewers that America has always been a beacon for the world — a nation that “gives hope to the most desperate people on Earth.”

He concludes by imploring voters to “remember who we are. This is America.”

Should the 76-year-old moderate from Delaware win the White House, he would be the oldest person elected president. He and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is 77, are currently running first and second, respectively, in national polls of Democratic candidates.

Many political observers believe Biden’s appeal to working-class whites in states such as his native Pennsylvania as well as Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin helped Barack Obama win two presidential terms. Trump won all four of those states against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In this Thursday, April 18, 2019, file photo, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally in support of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston. Stop & Shop supermarket workers and company officials said Sunday, April 21 they’ve reached a tentative contract agreement. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo, File)

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and others are holding a fundraiser for Biden in Philadelphia today.

Current polls give Biden the largest projected margin of victory of any Democratic candidate over Trump in the general election.

Whether Biden can capture the nation the way he has won the hearts of Delaware remains to be seen. Two previous presidential campaigns — in 1988 and 2008 — fizzled.

The Delaware touch

In the First State, Biden has been so ubiquitous during a half-century of public life that when he’s spotted at a restaurant or hardware store, people routinely greet him as “Joe.”

The Wilmington Amtrak station and the Newark rest stop on Interstate 95 have been named in his honor. His name is all over the University of Delaware, from the Biden Institute to the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration.

Many Delawareans have a personal story about meeting Biden, in large part because he grew up in northern Delaware, attended its flagship university and has been in office since 1970, the year he won a seat on the New Castle County Council.

He catapulted to legendary status statewide and national recognition in 1972 at the age of 29 by defeating popular two-term Republican U.S. Sen. J. Caleb Boggs with his charming brand of “retail politics.” Boggs was also a former two-term governor and had served three terms in the U.S. House.

In this 1973 photo, four-year-old Beau Biden lies in a hospital bed as his dad is sworn in as the U.S. senator from Delaware. Beau was injured in an accident that killed his mother and sister in December 1972. (AP Photo, File)

Biden’s career success was rocked by personal tragedy after his wife and daughter died in a car accident, and his two sons, Beau and Hunter, were seriously injured. (Beau Biden died in 2015 from brain cancer. He was then Delaware’s attorney general.)

But in at least two ways, that Delaware success may be a liability for Biden’s campaign for the White House.

Biden’s penchant for the “personal touch” also caused problems in recent weeks. Even before he made his third presidential campaign official, several women in other states came forward to say Biden made them feel uncomfortable by touching or even kissing them. The touching was not deemed sexual in nature, but it was all women who came forward to complain.

Biden took to Twitter in response, posting a video pledging to “be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future.”

“I’ll always believe governing, quite frankly, life for that matter, is about connecting with people,” he said. “That won’t change, but I will be much more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”

Delaware’s top female lawmakers also backed Biden’s hands-on approach, and Gov. John Carney said that “personal touch” is welcomed by voters.

“It’s an expectation of Delawareans, of their politicians, if you don’t do that, don’t reach out, people are like ‘Who’s this guy? What’d I do? Why am I not favored?’”

Meghan Wallace, a Delaware advocate for sexual assault victims, said voters across the country should evaluate Biden’s behavior in context. She pointed out that Biden sponsored and championed the landmark Violence Against Women Act in 1994 and has been a leader in targeting sexual assault on college campuses.

“Talking about Vice President Biden’s actions in the same breath as President Trump’s or any number of the stories of sexual violence that have surfaced against powerful men during the #MeToo Movement in this historical moment is just a dangerous false equivalency,’’ Wallace said.

“Biden’s sin is essentially showing genuine kindness without actual permission in a world where men hold the power. And I do hope that as a true leader, he’s going to look at his own shortcomings and make an example of his own learning. Because I think that’s what we need from all men.”

Can he revamp ‘mom-and-pop’ campaign style?

Former VP Joe Biden greeted travelers and posed for pictures after the ceremony renaming the travel plaza in the Biden family’s honor. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

While hundreds and thousands of Delawareans have a personal story about meeting Biden, a successful presidential campaign requires much more than swinging through the local coffee shop and ice cream parlor to chat up diners.

“If you take a look at it, the idea of Biden as a candidate has always proven to be superior to the actuality of Biden as a candidate,” said Steve Tanzer, a former aide to Democrats in the Delaware General Assembly who writes for the website

He sees Biden’s drawn-out announcement delay as a sign of a weak campaign apparatus. “He’s basically run mom-and-pop campaigns, and it looks like he’s doing the same this time.”

The small-town feel of past Biden campaigns has been intentional. His sister Valerie Biden Owens has been at the helm for most of his victories, going all the way back to his 1972 upset over two-term incumbent Boggs.

Can Biden revamp that campaign style for a national audience in 2020? Tanzer is doubtful, despite Biden’s lead in current polls.

“He always peaks when he announces,” Tanzer said. “So will that same campaign team … 12 years removed from when he actually ran for president back in 2008, will they, are they going to be better?

“Is he going to be sharper? Is he going to be able to campaign harder? I don’t think so.”

(AP Photo/Jessica Kourkounis)

In March, Biden told the state party’s top leaders he has “the most progressive record of anyone running.” That statement was widely reported because Biden seemed to confirm he definitely was in the race before correcting himself to say his record was most progressive of “anyone who would run.”

But Biden’s long history in the Senate has critics pointing to bills he supported or positions he took decades ago that now don’t seem progressive at all.

There was his handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claims against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991 when Biden was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many thought Biden was too deferential to Thomas and allowed colleagues to be too harsh on Hill.

Then there’s Biden’s leadership role in passing the 1994 crime bill that established mandatory minimums for some drug offenses and, according to many critics, helped spur mass incarceration in prisons.

There was his plagiarism of an excerpt from a British politician’s speech that short-circuited his first presidential campaign. His 2008 campaign ended after he received less than 1% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.

Tanzer also cited Biden’s support of a bill in 2005 that made it harder for people to declare bankruptcy.

“I think the one that’s really going to do him in, because it really runs counter to where pretty much everyone is, is what he did in supporting the bankruptcy bill,” Tanzer said.

Critics say Delaware’s credit card industry spurred Biden to support that bankruptcy bill in the early 2000s. The bill made it more difficult for average Americans to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and discharge their debts.

Biden’s quick tongue is a source of his charm, but it also has harmed in the past, to the point where the word “gaffe’’ became synonymous with the Biden name. He’s even acknowledged that he’s a “gaffe machine.”

For example, commenting on Delaware’s growing Indian American population, he quipped to a voter: “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

Despite any detractors locally or nationally, Biden can count on several powerful Washington allies such as Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who now holds the office Biden held for 36 years until he was sworn in as vice president in January 2009.

“He’s going to run a bold and successful campaign, and he’ll focus on the positives and the future,” Coons told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in one of dozens of cable news appearances touting Biden’s credentials.

And now, at long last, Biden will try once again to woo America.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal