Former Vice President Joe Biden gave his strongest signal yet that he will soon get into the 2020 presidential race, speaking to a friendly union audience that greeted him with chants of “Run, Joe, run!”
“I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here,” Biden said, addressing a conference of the International Assn. of Fire Fighters. “Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.”
Biden’s supporters have been saying they expect him to get into the race soon, but always with the caveat that he was still weighing concerns including the potential fundraising challenges and impact on his family. But Harold Schaitberger, president of the firefighters union and a longtime supporter of Biden’s, said he believed such concerns had been addressed.
“My sense is the decision is likely made,” he said after Biden’s speech.
Biden has consistently shown up at the top of polls of potential Democratic presidential candidates. His supporters have said Biden believed he could afford to delay entering the field because he is so well known and has an established network of donors and advisors.
But with a large field of candidates already in place, he’s been under pressure to make a decision, and aides have signaled that a formal announcement likely will come in the next few weeks.
Tuesday’s speech was the first of two Biden appearances this week before supportive audiences, to be followed Saturday by a speech to the Delaware Democratic Party.
The firefighters union provided a well-orchestrated show of the force that would be deployed behind Biden once he becomes a candidate. “Firefighters for Biden” banners hung behind the podium, and “Run Joe Run” placards were spread through the audience.
But the overwhelmingly white, male crowd was hardly representative of the diverse Democratic electorate Biden will be facing in a primary, and he will compete in a candidate field already packed with women and people of color.
The union made no endorsement in 2016, and its members were split between supporting Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Biden’s supporters argue he would be the candidate best equipped to beat Trump in 2020 because he has a blue-collar appeal that could help the party win back voters it lost to Trump, especially in the industrial Midwest.
The speech provided a window onto what a Biden campaign message would likely be, as Biden went short on Trump bashing and long on a call for healing divisions of American life.
He made no direct reference to Trump, but took a swipe at his budget.
“I was going to stay away from this but I can’t,” he said. “Did you see the budget that was just introduced? It cuts $845 billion, almost a trillion dollar cut, in Medicare. Why? Because of a tax cut for the super wealthy.”
He also flicked at Trump when talking about the need to embrace diversity and overcome bigotry.
“In America, everybody gets a shot,” Biden said. “That’s what the next president of the United States needs to understand. That’s what I don’t think this current president understands at all.”
He decried the “mean pettiness’’ that he said had overtaken American politics and noted that he had been taken to task for his bipartisan approach. Some Democrats bridled when he recently referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “decent guy,” and in 2018 when he praised a House Republican, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, in the middle of a contested reelection campaign.
“You notice I get criticized for saying anything nice about a Republican,” he told the firefighters.
John Collins, a union member in the audience from Sacramento, said Biden would stand a better chance of winning than other Democrats in the field. “Compared to other people running, he tends to be less polarizing across the board,” he said.