Former Vice President Joe Biden formally announced on Thursday he was bidding for the Democratic Party nomination for President, putting the crowded race into high gear.
Declaring the presidential election a “battle for the soul of the nation”, he declared his candidacy in a video released on social media early morning. He was to hold a fundraiser later in the day in Philadelphia.
“If we give (President) Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and watch that happen,” Biden said in his video.
Trump greeted him on Twitter with an insult: “Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe.”
Leading the polls for the party nomination, Biden had overshadowed the race without having to direct confront the other 20 candidates but he will now have make his case with the party voters.
The 76-year-old career politician’s main rival is another septuagenarian, the self-styled socialist Bernie Sanders, 77. Both of them are at the top of the polls, with Biden at 29.3 percent and Sanders at 23 percent, according to RealClear Politics polling average. Senator Kamala Harris follows them with only 8.3 percent support.
The long-anticipated announcement was delayed after a woman associated with the campaign of Sanders accused him of touching her inappropriately and three other women came forward with similar accusations. Despite the sensitivity of allegations in the #MeToo age, the charges failed to get traction as Sanders was seen as an over-affectionate “old uncle” socialised in a different era.
Despite the lead in the polls, Biden starts with zero campaign funds and has to quickly raise money to fuel his race. As an announced candidate, Sanders raised $18 million in the first quarter of the year.
This will be Biden’s third attempt to run for President. He first tried for the Democratic Party nomination in 1988 as a 44-year-old Senator making a pitch as the voice of the young. He lost to Michael Dukakis, who was trounced by George Bush, the senior.
Although he would have had a claim on the Democratic Party nomination in 2016 as President Barack Obama’s Vice President, he gallantly sat out the election to allow Hillary Clinton to claim it as a matter of family right.
The rally by white supremacists in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2017 at which a counter-protester was killed made him decide to enter the race, Biden said in his video.
Trump had been ambivalent about them supremacists, failing to unequivocally condemned it saying instead that there were “very fine people” among both the supremacists and those protesting them.
“I knew the threat to our nation was unlike any I’d ever seen in my lifetime,” Biden said.
Ideologically, Biden is at the centre in a race that skews left with Sanders openly proclaiming his socialist leanings and many candidates edging towards him.
Trump referred to his radical challengers in his tweet: “It will be nasty — you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!”
Biden has had strong relations with trade unions and could appeal to the white working and poorer classes that were looked down upon by Clinton, driving them to Trump. He is also viewed as a solid politician who could bring stability to volatile politics.
But he will have to meld his moderate policies with the aspirations of the left and the racial minorities to appeal across the party spectrum. That is a reason he focused on his opposition to white supremacy, rather on policies, in his announcement.
His opponents for the nomination represent the diversity of America as never before with an African American/Indian American woman, a Jew, a Hindu, a gay person, Latinos, African Americans and the most number of women ever.
As a long-serving senator and a two-term Vice President under a very popular President, Obama, Biden has national name recognition and has a record. Sanders too has name recognition from his run against Clinton in the 2016 party primaries.
Now that he is formally a candidate, the band of younger rivals have an opportunity to take Biden on and try to break his hold on the centre and centre-left base.
Dangers also lurk in his long political career. For example, he is reported to have opposed an element of school desegregation that involved busing children to schools with a majority of a different race.
If he does ultimately get the party nomination next year, he would emerge a bruised warrior after the primaries.