Former Vice President Joe Biden has officially launched his bid for the US presidency in a ceremony in his home state of Pennsylvania, embracing a message of unity that he said would ultimately help defeat President Donald Trump.
Speaking to a crowd in Philadelphia to kick off his 2020 campaign, the 76-year-old, who served as President Barack Obama‘s right hand man for two terms – offered a call for bipartisan unity that seemed far more aimed at a general election audience than the fiery Democratic activists most active in the presidential primary process.
Biden made Trump his central target, blasting him as “the divider-in-chief”.
He chided other Democratic presidential candidates in the field, suggesting that anger towards Trump within his party was not enough to win the presidential election next year.
“Some of the really smart folks say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity,” he said. “They say Democrats are so angry, and that the angrier your campaign will be, the better chance you have to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it.”
“If the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand, a hard heart, to demonise the opponents and spew hatred – they don’t need me, they’ve got President Donald Trump.”
He announced his decision to run for the presidency on April 25 with an online video and climbed to the front of the crowded primary field, in part by highlighting his ability to compete with Trump in potentially make-or-break states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
His campaign headquarters are in Philadelphia.
Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from Washington DC, said the decision to launch his campaign from Pennsylvania was deeply symbolic.
“Biden is from Pennsylvania, he’s very well liked there and the latest polls there show that he is leading Trump in the state of Pennsylvania by more than 10 points,” said Elizondo.
“Make no mistake, he’s in Pennsylvania because Pennsylvanians could very well decide who the next president is going to be.”
“In 2016, Donald Trump just narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in the state of Pennsylvania by less than one percent and those 20 electoral votes for Pennsylvania really are what put Trump over the top.”
Elizondo said that Biden emphasised his near 40 years of experience in politics made him the candidate best positioned to take on Trump and bring a divided Washington together to resolve issues ranging from the economy to climate change.
Democratic nominating contests begin next February, giving the dynamics of the race plenty of time to shift. But Biden has opened up a more than 20-point lead over his nearest rival, US Senator Bernie Sanders, in several public opinion polls.
Prior to Biden’s speech, the Republican National Committee in a release pointed to statistics showing how Pennsylvania’s economy has improved during Trump’s presidency.
Biden will not likely have the luxury of shrugging off the rest of the Democratic field much longer.
In recent weeks, he has been criticised by Senator Kamala Harris for his past support for the 1994 crime bill that critics say led to mass incarceration of African-Americans, by Sanders for his support of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and by Senator Elizabeth Warren for his ties to the credit-card industry.
With Biden the clear frontrunner, those attacks are likely to intensify. But Biden on Saturday said he would keep his focus on Trump and not his rivals for the nomination.
“You will not hear me speak ill of another Democrat,” Biden said.