Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a moderate who has made his appeal to working-class voters who deserted the Democrats in 2016 a key part of his political identity, launched a bid for the White House on Thursday as the party’s instant frontrunner.
Biden announced the third presidential bid of his career by video on YouTube and other social media, drawing a stark contrast between himself and President Donald Trump in a contest he said was a fight for the future of American democracy.
“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” he said. “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But 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 let that happen.”
Trump responded in a post on Twitter, slamming Biden’s “intelligence” and vowing to meet him “at the Starting Gate” if the Democrat wins his party’s “nasty” nomination fight.
Biden, 76, had been wrestling for months over whether to run. His candidacy will face numerous questions, including whether he is too old and too centrist for a Democratic Party yearning for fresh faces and increasingly propelled by its more vocal liberal wing.
Biden starts as leader of the pack in opinion polls of a Democratic field of 20 contenders seeking a chance to challenge Trump, the likely Republican nominee, in November 2020.
Critics say his standing in polls is largely a function of name recognition for the former U.S. senator from Delaware, whose more than four decades in public service includes eight years as President Barack Obama’s No. 2 in the White House.
Obama’s spokeswoman Katie Hill said in a statement that Obama has long said selecting Biden to be his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made. The statement fell short of a formal endorsement, but said Obama relied on Biden’s insight, knowledge and judgment through both election campaigns and his entire presidency.
Biden will travel across the country in the coming weeks to detail his plans to rebuild the middle class, kicking off his tour with a visit on Monday to Pittsburgh, his campaign said.
Known for his verbal gaffes on the campaign trail, Biden failed to gain traction with voters during his previous runs in 1988 and 2008.
As speculation about his bid mounted, Biden faced new questions about his propensity for touching and kissing strangers at political events, with several women coming forward to say he had made them feel uncomfortable.
Biden struggled in his response to the concerns, at times joking about his behavior. But ultimately, he apologized and said he recognized standards for personal conduct had evolved in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Biden’s candidacy will offer early hints about whether Democrats are more interested in finding a centrist who can win over the white working-class voters who backed Trump in 2016, or someone who can fire up the party’s diverse progressive wing, such as Senators Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.