- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2019

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden entered the presidential race Thursday with a roaring anti-Trump message and a claim to a front-runner position, but he immediately ran into a massive anyone-but-Biden campaign from liberal activists.

He made the long-anticipated announcement of his candidacy in an online video in which he took aim at President Trump and framed the 2020 election as “the battle for the soul of this nation.”

In launching his third bid for the White House, Mr. Biden focused on Mr. Trump’s response to the deadly August 2017 clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Very fine people on both sides?” Mr. Biden said with incredulity, repeating Mr. Trump’s response. “With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it.”

Mr. Biden said Charlottesville woke him to the depth of the threat of racism and bigotry unleashed by Mr. Trump.

“Everything that has made America — America — is at stake,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Joe Biden 2020 campaign drags Obama into spotlight

Mr. Biden, 76, enters as one of the favorites in a field of 20 candidates that is historically diverse and includes six women, five people of color and one member of the LGBTQ community.

His focus on racism right out of the gate highlights the pressure on Mr. Biden to build support not only with black voters, who are the backbone of the Democratic electorate, but also with liberal activists intent on showcasing the party’s diversity.

Justice Democrats, the liberal group that helped the give rise to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, warned that Mr. Biden is a relic of the past with a shady record on the issues they care about.

“The party needs new leadership with a bold vision capable of energizing voters in the Democratic base who stayed home in 2016,” the group said in a blast email to its members. “While we’re going to support the Democratic nominee, we can’t let a so-called ‘centrist’ like Joe Biden divide the Democratic Party and turn it into the party of ‘No, we can’t.’ “

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws slammed Mr. Biden’s “abysmal record” championing the drug war.

“Biden’s views are far out of step with the American public, and he holds the worst record on cannabis-related policy of any individual currently running for the Democratic or Republican nomination,” said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump on Biden’s 2020 announcement: ‘Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe’

Mr. Trump said Mr. Biden was in for a rough ride.

“Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. 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,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Asked about Mr. Trump’s jab as he stopped at a pizzeria in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Mr. Biden refused to joust with the president.

“Everybody knows Donald Trump,” he said.

After 36 years as a senator from Delaware and eight years in the White House, Mr. Biden has a lifetime of political positions for rivals to scrutinize.

He opposed busing to desegregate schools in the 1970s. He wholeheartedly supported the war on drugs and helped author tough-on-crime laws in the 1980s and 1990s that are now blamed for mass incarceration.

Mr. Biden points to his record of progressive accomplishments, including his role in Obamacare, his early support for same-sex marriage and his spearheading of the Violence Against Women Act.

Biden campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said the former vice president leads in the polls because voters “know who he is.”

“Voters know Joe Biden. I think they know he’s a man of character, he’s a man of empathy,” she said on MSNBC. “As Democrats are looking for a change — and frankly, it’s voters across the country looking for a change from what we currently have in the White House — there’s no bigger change than Joe Biden.”

For months, polls have consistently put Mr. Biden and far-left icon Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont at the front of the pack of Democratic contenders. They are usually the only candidates with a double-digit share of the vote.

Though Mr. Sanders, 77, is the oldest candidate in the race, the jockeying between him and Mr. Biden is part of a generational struggle in the party.

“Announcing so late makes him look like the heir apparent and the establishment candidate in an anti-establishment year,” said Melissa Watson, chair of the Berkeley County Democratic Party in South Carolina, home to the first-in-the-South primary.

Ms. Watson has endorsed Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California.

Mr. Biden ranks as an elder statesman of the party. Despite his eight years serving beside the immensely popular President Barack Obama, he is still viewed skeptically by liberal activists and is considered by many Democrats as part of the party establishment.

The notion that he is out of step with today’s political culture was reinforced when several women recently came forward to complain that his overly familiar touching of them at public events made them uncomfortable.

The women did not accuse him of sexual misconduct but said he was too “handsy” or invaded their personal space, conduct that is off limits in the #MeToo era.

A national survey by Morning Consult this week showed Mr. Biden leading with 30%, followed by Mr. Sanders at 24% and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9%.

As in other polls, Mr. Biden had solid support and led his rivals with men and women, black and white voters, and voters at every education level.

His strongest support came from older and more conservative voters.

Mr. Biden garnered 40% support among voters 65 and older compared with 13% who went for Mr. Sanders. Mr. Biden captured 41% of conservative voters to Mr. Sanders’ 21%.

He even edged Mr. Sanders among voters who identify as liberal Democrats, 26% to 24%.

On the flip side, Mr. Biden’s lowest numbers were from voters who are younger than 45 and those who identify as very liberal Democrats.

Voters ages 18 to 29 backed Mr. Sanders over Mr. Biden 38% to 21%, and voters ages 30 to 44 went for Mr. Sanders 31% to 23%.

Very liberal Democrats chose Mr. Sanders over Mr. Biden 29% to 19%.

Mr. Biden capped his first day in the race with a fundraiser at the Philadelphia home of Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen. Regular attendees were asked to give the maximum legal contribution of $2,800, but “young professionals” could get in with a $250 donation.

Many of Mr. Biden’s rivals used his entrance into the race as fodder for fund-raising appeals.

The Sanders campaign sent supporters an email asking for $3 for the cause. The message line was “Joe Biden.”

“There are a lot of candidates in this race right now. But there is only one Bernie Sanders. You know that. Let’s have a big day for our campaign today. This is important. So thank you for contributing to our fight,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir wrote in the email.

• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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