WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden formally joined the crowded Democratic presidential contest on Thursday, declaring the "soul of this nation" at stake if President Donald Trump wins re-election.
FILE - In this April 18, 2019, file photo, former vice president Joe Biden talks with officials after speaking at a rally in support of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
In a video posted on Twitter , Biden focused on the 2017 deadly clash between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Biden noted Trump's comments that there were some "very fine people" on both sides of the violent encounter, which left one woman dead.
"We are in the battle for the soul of this nation," Biden said. "If we give 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."
The 76-year-old Biden becomes an instant front-runner alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is leading many polls and has proved to be a successful fundraiser . Biden has legislative and international experience that is unmatched in the Democratic field , and he is among the best-known faces in U.S. politics.
He quickly racked up endorsements on Thursday morning, becoming the first Democrat running for president with the backing of more than one U.S. senator.
Still, Biden must compete in a field that now spans at least 20 Democrats and has been celebrated for its racial and gender diversity. As an older white man with occasionally centrist views, Biden has to prove he's not out of step with his party. He's yet to outline his positions on the issues defining the 2020 Democratic primary, most notably "Medicare for All," the universal health care plan authored by Sanders that has been adopted by virtually the entire Democratic field.
His critics in both major political parties were also quick to pounce.
"The old guard of the Democratic Party failed to stop Trump, and they can't be counted on to lead the fight against his divide-and-conquer politics today," the liberal group Justice Democrats tweeted. "The party needs new leadership with a bold vision capable of energizing voters in the Democratic base who stayed home in 2016."
Biden, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is betting that his working class appeal and ties to Barack Obama's presidency will help him win over such skeptics. Obama has declined to endorse Biden, however, and several former Obama aides are now working for other candidates.
"I asked President Obama not to endorse," Biden told reporters as he arrived in Delaware Thursday. "Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits."
While he hasn't endorsed anyone in the crowded field, Obama took the unusual step of weighing in on Thursday's announcement.
"President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made," Obama spokeswoman Katie Hill said. "He relied on the vice president's knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today."
Trump welcomed Biden to the campaign in a tweet calling him "Sleepy Joe."
"I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign," Trump said. "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."
Privately, Trump allies have warned that Biden might be the biggest re-election threat given the former vice president's potential appeal among the white working class in the Midwest, the region that gave Trump a path to the presidency.
Biden is paying special attention to his native Pennsylvania, a state that swung to Trump in 2016 after voting for Democratic presidential candidates for decades. While Biden represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years, he was often referred to as Pennsylvania's third senator.
The former vice president will be in the state three times within the opening weeks of his campaign. He'll be in Philadelphia on Thursday evening headlining a fundraiser at the home of David L. Cohen, executive senior vice president of Comcast. Biden is aiming to raise $500,000 at the event.
He will hold his first public event as a 2020 presidential candidate in Pittsburgh on Monday. Then it's off to Iowa, home of the leadoff nominating caucuses on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by two days in South Carolina. He'll visit the other two early-voting states, Nevada and New Hampshire, in early May, before holding a major rally in Philadelphia.
Biden's first media appearance is set for Friday morning on ABC's "The View," a move that may help him make an appeal to women whose support will be crucial to winning the primary. He also hired Symone Sanders to serve as a senior strategist, tapping a prominent African American who previously worked for Biden's chief competitor, Bernie Sanders, in the 2016 presidential contest.
As he neared his campaign launch, Biden's challenges have come into greater focus.
He struggled last month to respond to claims that he touched 2014 Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores' shoulders and kissed the back of her head before a fall campaign event. A handful of other women have made similar claims, though none has alleged sexual misconduct.
Biden, a former U.S. senator from Delaware, pledged in an online video to be "much more mindful" of respecting personal space but joked two days later that he "had permission" to hug a male union leader before addressing the group's national conference.
Biden also has been repeatedly forced to explain his 1991 decision, as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, to allow Anita Hill to face difficult questions from an all-male panel about allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who later was confirmed to the high court.
He has since apologized for his role in the hearing. But in the #MeToo era, particularly after the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the episode remains a significant political liability.
Likewise, Biden once played a key role in anti-crime legislation that had a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans. And while several 2020 Democratic contenders have embraced the possibility of reparations to African Americans for slavery in recent weeks, Biden last month struggled to explain comments he made as a freshman senator in 1975 about the school busing debate.
His first White House bid in 1988 ended after a plagiarism scandal. He dropped out of the 2008 race after earning less than 1% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Later that year, Obama named Biden as his running mate.
Boyd Brown, a prominent South Carolina Democrat backing Beto O'Rourke, said Biden's opening salvo stands out.
"This is very strong out of the chute. Well done. Biden just sucked the wind out of the sails for much of the field," he said.
But he noted that announcement bumps fade and said Biden still has "to campaign the same aggressive way for the next nine months."
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Who's running for president? Meet the Democratic candidates
With the entrance of former Vice President Joe Biden into the 2020 Democratic presidential contest on Thursday, the field is largely set, with all the big names included.
The sprawling Democratic field features candidates ranging from 37 to 77 years old; liberals and moderates; senators, governors and mayors; and an unprecedented number of women and minorities. Democrats view the upcoming election as a must-win, and they're looking to nominate someone who is their best hope to beat President Donald Trump.
Candidates for president in 2020
Here are the 20 candidates:
Best known for: Being former President Barack Obama's vice president from 2009 to 2017 and U.S. senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009.
Biggest strength: He's well-known nationally and popular in some places Democrats have lost recently, such as working-class swing states Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, his birthplace.
Biggest weakness: Biden would be the oldest person ever elected president, with a nearly five-decade record for opponents to comb through, at a time many in his party are clamoring for a new generation to take the reins. The notoriously chatty former senator also tends to commit verbal gaffes and faced recent accusations by some women of uninvited, though nonsexual, touching.
Best known for: Serving as mayor of Newark and, currently, U.S. senator from New Jersey. He made headlines last year during his self-proclaimed "'I am Spartacus' moment" as he flouted Senate rules against disclosing confidential documents during Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation fight.
Biggest strength: His optimistic, unity-first attitude could resonate at a time of deep political divisions.
Biggest weakness: Trying to convince voters that he's tough enough to take on Trump.
Best known for: Serving as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and being a former Naval intelligence officer.
Biggest strength: He's won over voters and many skeptics with his intelligence and an articulate yet plain-spoken speaking style. He's also shown an ability to inspire voters of different ages with a message of hope and "a new generation of leadership" and has been able to raise millions more than many of his Democratic rivals.
Biggest weakness: His youth and lack of political experience — his only public office has been leading the community of about 100,000 people — will give some voters pause. He also will need to ramp up his campaign operations and do more to appeal to minority voters in order to maintain his early momentum.
Best Known for: Serving as Housing and Urban Development secretary during President Barack Obama's second term and as the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, for five years.
Biggest strength: His youthfulness and status as the only Latino in the race could help him win the votes of Democrats looking for a new face of their party.
Biggest weakness: His fundraising lags well behind other contenders.
Best known for: Being a former congressman from Maryland.
Biggest strength: He has rolled out a rural-focus policy that includes proposals to strengthen family farmers and rural infrastructure, a plan that could play well in the battleground Rust Belt states won by Trump.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition.
Best known for: Serving as a U.S. representative for Hawaii; the first American Samoan and first Hindu to be elected to Congress.
Biggest strength: Her military service in Iraq and Kuwait with the Hawaii National Guard.
Biggest weakness: She has been criticized for traveling to Syria in 2017 to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been accused of war crimes and even genocide. She was also forced to apologize for her past work advocating against gay rights.
Best known for: The senator from New York is one of her chamber's most vocal members on issues of sexual harassment, military sexual assault, equal pay for women and family leave.
Biggest strength: Not being afraid to defy her own party in the #MeToo era, calling early for Democratic Sen. Al Franken's resignation over sexual misconduct allegations and saying Bill Clinton should have voluntary left the presidency over an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.
Biggest weakness: Sluggish campaign fundraising in the wake of some unpleasant #MeToo headlines of her own, with Gillibrand acknowledging there were "post-investigation human errors" made when her Senate office investigated allegations of sexual misconduct against various staffers.
Best known for: The former California attorney general is now the junior U.S. senator from California, known for her rigorous questioning of Trump's nominees.
Biggest strength: As the one black woman in the race, she's able to tap into networks like historically black colleges and universities and her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority that haven't been fully realized before.
Biggest weakness: Her prosecutorial record has come under scrutiny amid a push for criminal justice reform.
Best known for: Being a quirky brewpub owner who became a politician late in life, rising to governor of Colorado.
Biggest strength: An unorthodox political persona and successful electoral track record in a swing state. He's one of the few governors in a race heavy with senators and D.C. stalwarts.
Biggest weakness: He's previously joked that he was too centrist to win the Democratic nomination. As governor he disappointed some environmentalists by not regulating the energy industry more. He's another white male baby boomer in a party filled with younger and more diverse candidates that better reflect its base.
Best known for: Being governor of Washington state and a former congressman.
Biggest strength: His campaign emphasis is on combating climate change, which he frames as an economic opportunity in addition to a moral imperative.
Biggest weakness: He risks being labeled a one-issue candidate.
Best known for: The three-term Minnesota senator raised her national profile during a Senate committee hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when she asked him whether he had ever had so much to drink that he didn't remember what happened. He replied, "Have you?"
Biggest strength: She's known as a pragmatic lawmaker willing to work with Republicans to get things done, a quality that's helped her win across Minnesota, including in rural areas that supported Trump in 2016. She says her Midwestern sensibilities would help Democrats reclaim critical battlegrounds like Wisconsin and Michigan.
Biggest weakness: Her pragmatism may work against her in a primary, as Democratic voters increasingly embrace more liberal policies and positions. There have also been news reports that she has mistreated staff.
Best known for: Serving as the mayor of Miramar, Florida, and playing on the Florida State University Seminoles' 1993 national championship football team.
Biggest strength: He touts his mayoral experience balancing government regulations needed to protect the environment while allowing room for companies to prosper.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition and funding.
Best known for: The Massachusetts congressman and Iraq War veteran gained national attention for helping lead an effort within the party to reject Nancy Pelosi as House speaker after Democrats regained control of the chamber.
Biggest strength: Military and congressional experience.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition, late start on the fundraising necessary to qualify for the summer debate stage.
Best known for: The former congressman narrowly lost the 2018 Senate race to Republican Ted Cruz in Texas, the country's largest conservative state.
Biggest strength: A do-it-yourself campaign style that packs lots of travel and multiple events into long days and encourages off-the-cuff discussions with voters that still allow O'Rourke to talk up his days as a onetime punk rock guitarist and his love for his home on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Biggest weakness: He's longer on enthusiasm and vague, bipartisan optimism than actual policy ideas, and the style-over-substance approach could see O'Rourke's strong early fundraising slip once the curiosity begins to fade.
Best known for: The Ohio congressman made an unsuccessful bid to replace Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader in 2016.
Biggest strength: Ryan has touted himself as a candidate who can bridge Democrats' progressive and working-class wings to win the White House.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition, late start on grassroots fundraising.
Best known for: A 2016 presidential primary campaign against Hillary Clinton that laid the groundwork for the leftward lurch that has dominated Democratic politics in the Trump era.
Biggest strength: The Vermont senator, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, generated progressive energy that fueled his insurgent 2016 campaign and the best fundraising numbers of any Democrat so far.
Biggest weakness: Expanding his appeal beyond his largely white base of supporters.
Best known for: The California congressman is a frequent guest on cable news criticizing President Donald Trump.
Biggest strength: Media savvy and youthfulness could appeal to young voters.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition, late start on grassroots fundraising.
Best known for: The senator from Massachusetts and former Harvard University law professor whose calls for greater consumer protections led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Barack Obama.
Biggest strength: Warren has presented a plethora of progressive policy ideas, including eliminating existing student loan debt for millions of Americans, breaking up farming monopolies and mammoth technology firms, implementing a "wealth tax" on households with high net worth and providing universal child care.
Biggest weakness: She is viewed as one of the most liberal candidates in the Democratic field, which could hurt her among moderates. Her policy-heavy approach also risks alienating voters at a time when other candidates are appealing to hearts as much as to minds.
Best known for: Best-selling author and spiritual leader.
Biggest strength: Outsider who could draw interest from voters who are fans of her books.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition, little political experience.
Best known for: Entrepreneur who has generated buzz with his signature proposal for universal basic income to give every American $1,000 a month, no strings attached.
Biggest strength: Robust policy agenda, tech savvy.
Biggest weakness: Low name recognition, no political experience.
This story has been corrected to show Castro is the former Housing and Urban Development secretary, not Health and Human Services secretary.
One horrifying day in Virginia led to Biden's big 'yes'
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Apr 25, 2019 11:20AM (GMT 15:20) - 1507 words
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Joe Biden spent a hot August day at his lakefront Delaware home watching hatred on display in Charlottesville, Virginia, where, days earlier, torch-wielding white supremacists had marched through town. A counter-protester advocating racial equality was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd.
When President Donald Trump blamed the violence on "both sides," the former vice president says he was stunned.
He turned to his closest advisers — his family — to discuss what to do next.
Spread out across the country, the Bidens quickly convened through a series of group text messages. For months, they'd weighed whether Biden, whose two prior White House campaigns were abject failures, should try again.
There was now consensus: Prepare to run against Trump.
Biden's sister and longtime political confidante, Valerie Biden Owens, described Trump's comments as a "blow" to the man who had served as the No. 2 to America's first black president.
"It really started percolating, and the essence of this was Charlottesville," Biden Owens said. "I can tell you that was a major motivating moment for my brother, and the entire family."
"The big 'yes' started with this," said Ted Kaufman, Biden's longtime Senate chief of staff.
Nearly two years later, Biden made it official on Thursday when he announced in a video that he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination again. He blasted Trump's "moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it" and declared the election a "battle for the soul of this nation."
Biden is positioning himself as the anti-Trump, an experienced elder statesman ready to restore stability to Washington.
But he faces steep challenges. He's staking his candidacy on an appeal to the white working-class voters who swung to Trump in 2016, but he must also energize black voters.
At 76, he's the second oldest contender in the race (behind Bernie Sanders) at a time when many Democratic activists yearn for generational change. He sees his decades in public life as an asset. Others see it as a minefield of views on race and personal behavior that no longer match the modern Democratic Party.
His candidacy will serve as a fresh referendum on the eight years of the Obama administration, which some Democrats are beginning to view more critically.
But none of that dissuaded Biden from running.
This account of how he arrived at his decision is based on interviews with more than a dozen aides, longtime friends, advisers and family members who have discussed his deliberation over the past three years. Some requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about their conversations and observations.
It didn't take that much arm twisting. Biden was ready to run in 2016 before his elder son, Beau, succumbed to brain cancer and left him navigating a grief so intense that the rigor of a presidential campaign was out of the question.
"It started out 'yes' and he had every intention of running, but ran up against the unthinkable and the only answer was 'no,'" Biden Owens said.
The regret was palpable after Trump's win. In January 2017, two weeks before he would hand the vice presidency over to Mike Pence, Biden was on Capitol Hill to unveil his official portrait. Notoriously chatty, he gave a glimpse of his thinking.
"I might just do it," Biden remarked to a small cadre of staff, some of whom were taken aback that he was already entertaining the idea.
He stayed in regular touch with former President Barack Obama after they left the White House, by phone and in person. Those early conversations after Trump's inauguration were more about their own personal transitions out of government than Biden's possible political plans.
But Biden's interest in another presidential campaign quickly became clear. By May 2017, he started a political action committee to support Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. He solicited donors — something he's never enjoyed — and began mapping out a plan to be a prominent player in the Democratic bid to regain the House and defend difficult seats in the Senate.
As the midterms neared, Biden started getting the feedback he hoped for. In August 2018, he boarded a flight from Washington to New York and a string of passengers encouraged him to run in 2020.
The midterm effort wasn't merely a vanity project for an aging politician wanting to stay in the game. It was a test run of Biden's message, influence and personal stamina.
Biden campaigned for 65 candidates in 24 states, a pace that accelerated to include 13 cities in the last six days. In the final weeks of the campaign, he swung through Iowa, home to the nation's first presidential caucuses.
His combination of midterm travel and financial contributions were outdone by few, if any, of his would-be 2020 rivals.
After Democrats won the House, Biden spent much of the winter in his two-story brick house in suburban McLean, Virginia, plotting his next steps. He regularly called friends, longtime supporters and potential donors to get their views of the emerging presidential field. He pressed people on whether they thought he was too old to run.
By the time Teri Goodman, one of Biden's most enduring Iowa confidantes, arrived in Virginia in mid-February 2019, the dining room table was strewn with newspapers, files and briefing books. The two old friends retired to a sitting room where they chatted about the early stages of the race in Iowa as Biden's German Shepherd puppy, Major, flounced around and Major's older counterpart, Champ, sat quietly.
Goodman said there was no ambiguity about Biden's plans.
"I believed he was going to run," she said. "He was actively engaged, involved in these things."
"I'm his sister. I know he doesn't walk on water," Biden Owens said. "The man has flaws like we all do. But this is a man who is decent."
As he moved toward a campaign, Biden's liabilities were clear. He has faced sharp criticism for his pointed questioning of Anita Hill, the African American woman who leveled sexual harassment claims at Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. Biden has also been blasted for his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill, which is now blamed for disproportionately imprisoning hundreds of thousands of young black men.
More recently, he's faced scrutiny for his past opposition to mandatory school busing in the 1970s to achieve integration.
Biden recognized those vulnerabilities early on, studying a briefing book that included discussions of how his long record in public life could be seen differently in 2019 — and used against him.
He was less prepared for what happened on the afternoon of Friday, March 29. Lucy Flores, Nevada's Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, wrote an essay saying that, as vice president, Biden approached her from behind, put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair and kissed the back of her head.
Flores said the encounter wasn't violent or sexual, but was "demeaning and disrespectful." Biden was suddenly on the wrong side in the #MeToo era. He hadn't launched a campaign, but was already facing calls not to run.
He first seemed to deflect, saying in a written statement he did not recall the episode. He went on to say that "not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately." He pledged to listen to women who were sharing their stories.
As negative reaction mounted, Biden's team struck back more aggressively, blaming "right wing trolls" from "the dark recesses of the internet" for conflating uninvited touching with images of the notoriously affectionate Biden hugging women and children.
Another woman soon shared a story of how Biden touched her face with both hands and rubbed noses with her in 2009 when he was thanking aides who arranged an event in Connecticut.
As the week ticked on, news clattered away about whether Biden's patriarchal persona put him out of step with the times.
Biden was nowhere to be seen. It took nearly a week before he posted a two-minute video of him recounting how expressions of affection had helped him but "social norms have begun to change."
"They've shifted and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it. I get it," he said. "And I'll be much more mindful. That's my responsibility."
But when he spoke to a union audience in his first public appearance after the controversy, Biden seemed to joke about the issue. He noted the embrace he shared with a male union president, Lonnie Stephenson.
"I just want you to know, I had permission to hug Lonnie," Biden said, to the cheers of the mostly male crowd.
His message was clear: Biden would run as himself, flaws and all.
Beaumont wrote from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.