PHILADELPHIA — Dismissing President Donald Trump as the “divider in chief,” and vowing that “no one will work harder to earn your support,” Joe Biden rallied supporters under a bright May sun here Saturday.
“If the American people want a President to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and hard heart, to demonize the opponents and spew hatred — they don’t need me,” Biden asserted. “They’ve got President Donald Trump. I am running to offer the country – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – a different path.”
That path, it often seemed, was one back to the Obama-Biden administration.
Biden frequently mentioned former President Barack Obama, for whom he served as vice president for eight years, calling him “an extraordinary man…A president our children could, and did, look up to.”
At several points, Biden recounted fights from his eight years as vice president including the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus. Biden seemed to be making the case that he can unify when necessary and battle when the time is right.
“I know how to make government work,” he contended, only to later state “I know there are times when only bare-knuckled fights will do…I know how to go toe-to-toe with the GOP but it can’t be that way all the time.”
In perhaps the most effective and pointed portion of his remarks, Biden sought to turn Donald Trump’s perceived strength on the economy against him.
“President Trump inherited an economy that was given to him by the Obama-Biden administration. He inherited it, just like he inherited everything else in his life. And just like everything else in his life, he’s in the process of squandering that as well.”
After an early commotion in the crowd, Biden urged the crowd not to boo and said that his campaign would be different.
“I made a pledge, you will not see me speak ill of another Democrat.”
Citing his wife, Jill Biden’s admonition that “any country that out-educates us, will out-compete us” he called for free community college, improved job training and an additional commitment to pre-K education.
The current Democratic primary front-runner stopped short of endorsing rival candidate Bernie Sanders’ major legislative push for Medicare for All, instead endorsing a buy-in option.
“To me, giving every American the right to choose a public option like Medicare is the best way to get everybody covered,” he explained.
In a similar vein, he called for “greener highways, ports and also our airports” without explicitly endorsing the Green Deal, a Congressional project introduced by progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“We have to stop thinking that clean energy and job creation don’t go together. They do!” he declared.
Biden arrived in Philadelphia Saturday as the putative front-runner of an ever-expanding Democratic primary field. This week saw the entrance of New York City Mayor Bill Di Blasio to the 2020 campaign.
A Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic primary voters in Pennsylvania showed the former veep leading Trump 53- 42 percent in a head-to-head match-up. It also found Biden 26 points ahead of his closest primary rival, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.
Trump carried Pennsylvania by barely a percentage point in 2016, breaking a three-decade-old streak of Democratic victories in presidential years.
Biden is also making Pennsylvania central to his 2020 campaign. He barnstormed with union leaders in Pittsburgh shortly after declaring his candidacy. He’s announced this week that he’s putting his 2020 campaign headquarters in Philadelphia.
Biden also has ancestral ties to the Keystone State.
The Scranton born, Wilmington resident was frequently described as “Pennsylvania’s 3rd Senator” during his 36 years in the upper chamber, and makes frequent mention of his northeastern Pennsylvania roots.
About 6,000 people turned out for the event on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, according to an estimate campaign staffers announced to the press corps.