Decrying division and calling for unity among Democrats and all Americans to defeat President Trump next year, former Vice President Joe Biden officially kicked off his presidential campaign Saturday in Philadelphia.
Speaking in the shadow of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for about 30 minutes to a crowd estimated by his security team at about 6,000, Biden said the country desperately needs to come together.
“Some say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity. That they are angry — and the angrier you are, the better,” said Biden, who wore a blue-and-white striped dress shirt without a tie on a sunny spring afternoon.
“That’s what they are saying [they] have to do to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it. I believe Democrats want to unify this nation. That’s what we’ve always been about. Unity.
“If the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and a hard heart, to demonize the opponents and spew hatred — they don’t need me. They already have a president who does just that. I am running to offer our country — Democrats, Republicans and independents — a different path.”
Although he declared his third run for the presidency three weeks ago and has been campaigning around the country, Biden said he chose Philadelphia for his formal launch “because this was the birthplace of our democracy.”
Biden, who spent his early years in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has chosen Philadelphia for his campaign headquarters. Recent polls have shown Biden, who served two terms as Barack Obama’s vice president, leading the 22 other contenders for the Democratic nomination.
Polls also have shown him with the best chance of defeating Trump. He leads Trump in the critical state of Pennsylvania, which Obama won twice but Republican Trump took in 2016.
Biden cited his Delaware and Pennsylvania roots, and his wife, Jill, who preceded him to podium, spoke of her love for the city.
The politician, who represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate before becoming Obama’s running mate in 2008, promised to work for all Americans.
Though his speech focused on Trump, Biden said he was committed to improving access to health care, shoring up Social Security, dealing with climate change and protecting civil rights, making community college free, and sustaining the economy, among other major national issues.
“No one is going to work longer. No one is going to work harder. No one is going to campaign harder to win your trust and your heart and your support,” Biden pledged.
He also promised not to “speak ill’’ of the other Democratic candidates during the campaign season.
He decried the current discourse in national politics.
“We are all in this together. We need to remember that. Our politics have become so mean. … Instead of debating our opponents, we demonize them. Instead of questioning judgments, we question the motives. Instead of looking for resolution, we look to score political points. No more. This politics is ripping this country apart.”
Referring to Trump, Biden said the incumbent’s criticism of immigrants, Muslims and others, including the news media, “comes at a gigantic cost. It weakens us. This is not who we are.”
Biden said he will be willing to resort to a “bare-knuckles fight” with Republicans, as the Obama administration did when pushing through the Affordable Care Act with no GOP support in Congress.
But Biden said he would prefer to work across the aisle.
“The country is sick of division. They are sick of the fight. They are sick of the childish behavior,” he said. “There isn’t a single person among you or in this country who can get away with that in their jobs.”
Turning again to Trump, Biden said, “We need a president who brings people together by his vision rather than the division he sows.”
More than once he repeated: “Let’s stop fighting so we can start fixing.”
But his ultimate message, which he called out near the end, was singular: “Beat Trump.”
Walter Chisholm, a Philadelphia attorney, captured the sentiment of Biden supporters as he sat in the grass at Eakins Oval.
“It’s time that the country puts its values back into perspective,’’ Chisolm said. “[The way] we are headed now, with all the divisiveness, is certainly going to benefit us.”
Said Kristina Bell of New York, who was in the area to visit her son at the University of Delaware: “Hopefully, Vice President Biden will be able to repair it.” She added that Biden “has the experience needed to do the job.”