In a boost to Biden, Obama endorses his former vice president
Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday formally endorsed Joe Biden for president, a big step in helping to unite their party and marking his own entry into the fight against President Trump.
Evoking the nation’s current health and economic crisis, Obama said in a video release, “Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times, and heal us through a long recovery.”
There had been little doubt that Obama would back his former vice president once Biden had a lock on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but Obama — one of the most popular Democrats in the country — had steadfastly withheld any endorsement during the long party contest that featured numerous contenders.
“Choosing Joe to be my vice president was one of the best decisions I ever made, and he became a close friend,” Obama said, speaking straight to the camera in the 12-minute video. “And I believe Joe has all the qualities we need in a president right now.”
Obama’s endorsement came one day after Biden secured the formal backing of his last remaining rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Another former competitor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is expected to soon endorse Biden as well; the timing of the announcement is being largely determined by the Biden campaign, according to a source familiar with the planning.
The high-level endorsements are part of an orchestrated effort to unify the Democratic Party for the general-election push to defeat Trump, and to avoid the kind of lingering post-primary divisions that hampered the 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Obama did not endorse anyone during the primary season because, sources close to him said, he believed his most important role would be as the uniter after a competition that pitted the party establishment that Biden represented and the liberal wing that Sanders leads. As Biden’s hold on the nomination became clear in past weeks, Obama had several conversations with Sanders in advance of the senator’s withdrawal from the race, according to a source familiar with the conversations.
In his endorsement video for Biden, Obama lavished praise on Sanders.
“Bernie’s an American original — a man who has devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams and frustrations,” Obama said. “He and I haven’t always agreed on everything. But we’ve always shared a conviction that we have to make America a fairer, more just, more equitable society.”
Obama also defended Biden against criticism from the left that his agenda is not bold enough to tackle the nation’s problems.
“Joe already has what is the most progressive platform of any major party nominee in history,” Obama said. “Because even before the pandemic turned the world upside down, it was already clear that we needed real structural change.”
Biden’s service in Obama’s administration has been a central element of his campaign pitch and political appeal. Biden has touted their partnership, as well as his prior resume and accomplishments, to bolster the case that he has the most experience getting things done in Washington and on the international stage.
Biden’s alliance with America’s first black president also helps account for the strong support he has enjoyed among African American voters, who proved crucial to his campaign’s recovery after a shaky start in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
His turnaround began when he trounced his opponents in the South Carolina primary, where a majority of Democratic voters are African American. Biden’s dominance was confirmed soon after, when overwhelming support from black voters helped him to victories in Super Tuesday’s multi-state contests.
What are black voters in South Carolina thinking as the former vice president has lost momentum in Democrats’ nominating contest?
With Obama remaining neutral, his image appeared in many candidates’ campaign ads during the nomination race as the rival Democrats competed to associate themselves with the popular former president.
Warren ran an ad featuring Obama praising her work in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg ran an ad so filled with Obama’s praise of him that some voters mistakenly concluded the former president had endorsed him. Even Sanders, for all of his policy disagreements with Obama, late in the campaign ran an ad with old clips of the president praising him.
And of course Biden himself put Obama at the center of an early ad. It featured Obama, in one of his last speeches as president in January 2017, as he gave his vice president the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Calling Biden a “resilient, humble and loyal servant,” Obama said his friend was “nowhere close to finished.”
It was not immediately clear what role Obama would play in the Biden campaign going forward, but he suggested in the video he would get out on the hustings once the public health emergency ends. “I will see you on the campaign trail as soon as I can,” he said.
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