Former Vice President Joe Biden announced that he would be running for president in 2020 in a Twitter video on Thursday, making him the twentieth Democrat to join the race.
Biden served as President Obama’s vice president for both terms, during which time he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Prior to that, he served as a senator for the state of Delaware from 1973 through his election as vice president.
The announcement video opens with Biden referring to Charlottesville, Virginia, as the home of “the author of one of the great documents of human history,” Thomas Jefferson, followed by a quote from the Declaration of Independence.
Biden then says Charlottesville is also home to “a defining moment in this nation.” Then, over video of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Biden references the rise of hate and intolerance in the Trump era and Trump’s infamous quote about there being “fine people on both sides.” He says, “If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.”
In the rest of the video, Biden emphasizes American values and character over video of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, American soldiers invading Normandy and civil rights marches.
Zac McCrary, a Democratic pollster and partner at ALG Research with a connection to the Biden campaign, says the team plans to emphasize that America is a crossroads and needs to be pulled back to its core values. He also says the campaign will focus on a message of rebuilding the American middle class.
Biden has already been polling in the top two spots in most polls without even announcing his candidacy. McCrary expects Biden to get a temporary bump from the announcement, but he thinks it will continue to be a “very carved up field, especially in the national polling.” He says he “would not expect Biden or anyone else to be able to open up a consistent lead.”
The Democratic primary is already a very large field with candidates holding a variety of political ideologies, from moderates to self-proclaimed socialists. McCrary sees Biden as very much in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, an Obama-style Democrat. He called Biden “progressive-minded, but not bogged down in ideological drama.”
“The overwhelming majority of real Democratic primary voters aren’t people who ascribe themselves to labels,” McCrary said. “That’s the type of voter Biden has real appeal with.”
There’s also been a lot of talk and energy around younger, more diverse candidates, like Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and Kamala Harris, particularly among younger voters. That’s an image Biden doesn’t really fit. But McCrary doesn’t see that as a problem.
“The primaries are proving grounds,” he said. “And voters are placing a very high premium on the candidate that can defeat Donald Trump.”
But what is it about Biden that makes him the most viable against Donald Trump? What sets him apart? McCrary says his connection to Obama is important.
“There is no one anywhere as close to as popular among Democratic voters as Barack Obama – maybe Michelle Obama. Voters can picture Biden as president because he’s had such close proximity,” McCrary said.
McCrary also emphasized the importance of voters’ familiarity with Biden and the fact that “he’s a known quantity to them.”
“He has a real brand as a middle class, blue collar guy,” he said. “People feel like they know Biden. He has a personal authenticity to him. People are comfortable with Biden.”
McCrary added, “It’s not something one can build in a few months,” referencing candidates new to the national scene that are getting a lot of attention like South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
McCrary repeatedly emphasized the importance of Biden’s relationship with Obama. After Biden’s announcement, Obama praised his former running mate but did not endorse him. Biden responded to this, saying he asked the former president not to endorse him, adding, “Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits.”
On this, McCrary said, “It’s not realistic to expect Obama, or Bill Clinton, for that matter...to inject themselves in the primary at this point. The onus is on each of these candidates to prove their mettle.”
With the primary still over a year away, the candidates will have plenty of time to do just that. The 20 declared candidates – coincidentally the amount that can fit on one very crowded debate stage – have until June 2020 to make themselves known, put out platforms, gather endorsements and win over voters.