WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden launched his third bid for the presidency, positioning himself as a trusted champion of the middle class eager to take the fight to President Donald Trump.In a video released early Thursday morning, Biden said that "we are in a battle for the soul of this nation."
His long-anticipated entry into the jam-packed 2020 Democratic field comes almost four months after Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first big-name Democrat to take her initial steps toward a run, but with a marathon 41 weeks left until the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.
The former two-term vice president and six-term senator from Delaware enters as the putative front-runner, at or near the top of every state and national poll, and with a recognized political brand cultivated during almost a half-century in public office.
But he faces serious obstacles in his bid for the Democratic nomination, including a restive and vocal liberal base, his past policy positions on major issues, and a campaign infrastructure being built in real time. And at 76, he's older than almost all of the 19 other Democrats in the race so far.
One of Biden's first acts as a declared candidate, in fact, will be to attend a high-dollar fundraiser in Philadelphia on Thursday evening — reflecting an urgent need to catch up financially to the rest of the field.
His team is also working to quickly build a digital infrastructure to grow an online, grassroots supporter base that can fuel the campaign with small-dollar donations.
Biden's first public scheduled event will come Monday afternoon in Pittsburgh, where he will speak to members of the Teamsters union about rebuilding the middle class. He'll then travel to early primary and caucus states before wrapping up his launch week back in Philadelphia, where advisers say he lay out a vision bringing Americans together in a polarized time.
Biden is relying heavily not only on the support of organized labor in securing the nomination, but also to get his campaign off the ground. His first organized public event is slated for Monday at a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. The International Association of Fire Fighters is slated to meet in the next 24 hours to make its expected endorsement official.
His strength and popularity in polls can only be partially explained by his universal name recognition, since other candidates, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are almost as well known as Biden but have lower favorability ratings.
Biden, who was elected to the U.S. Senate at 29 in 1972, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008, but earned the second spot on the presidential ticket and then eight years in the White House with President Barack Obama. Biden seriously considered challenging Hillary Clinton for the nomination in 2016, but ultimately decided to forgo a run in the wake of his son Beau's death to cancer. The loss hit Biden hard and he wrote a book about his grief, "Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose."
It was the second major family tragedy of Biden's life. A few weeks after his first election to the Senate in 1972, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash while Christmas shopping. Biden's two sons, Beau and Hunter, were in the backseat and injured, but OK. He remarried his current wife, Jill, five years later.
Biden's association with the still-popular former president will likely be front-and-center in his candidacy, even if he doesn't have Obama's explicit endorsement.
"I'm an Obama-Biden Democrat man. And I'm proud of it," Biden said last month.
His pitch will be aimed not at the most vocal progressive activists in the party, but at what advisers see as a much larger pool of pragmatic and independent voters to whom, they feel, Biden has a unique appeal.
He has been considering policy proposals designed to restore what he often calls the "basic bargain" with the middle class, including a tax rewrite that would help fund free community college, an increased minimum wage and a major infrastructure push.
Biden's decades of experience crafting American policy have made him, as he argued in December, "the most qualified person in the country to be president." But it's also left a paper trail of votes and statements from other political eras that his political opponents are sure to weaponize against him.
Over his long career, Biden has taken positions on a wide range of issues — from bussing to banking — that could be liabilities in today's more racially sensitive and economically progressive Democratic Party. Biden is famously affectionate, but in the #MeToo era, several women have also come forward to say he made them feel uncomfortable by touching them.