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By Mike Memoli
PHILADELPHIA — Joe Biden framed the 2020 presidential election as a choice between unity over division and cast himself as the candidate uniquely positioned to close the nation’s political divide, promising Saturday “a different path.”
Speaking in the heart of Philadelphia at a rally billed as a campaign kickoff, the former vice president doubled down on his view of the Democratic Party and the broader political climate in which more extreme voices often carry the day.
And his remarks once again appeared designed to look beyond the very crowded primary field toward the general election fight to come against President Trump, even as he acknowledged some skepticism in his party about his approach.
“I know some of the really smart folks said that Democrats do not want to hear about unity. The Democrats are so angry, the angrier that candidate could be the better chance to win the nomination. I do not believe it,” Biden said. “I believe Democrats want to unify this nation.”
America already has someone who would “add more divisions,” or “demonize” his opponents in Trump, Biden added.
“I am running to offer our country — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — a different path, not back to a past that never was but to a future that fulfills our true potential,” he said.
In more than three weeks as an announced candidate, the former two-term vice president to Barack Obama has seen his lead in national polls grow even as the field has as well. His perceived strength as a Democrat who can go toe-to-toe with Trump in the general election, but on substance and politically with an appeal in bellwether states like Pennsylvania, is a major reason why.
As he has for weeks, Biden warned in stark terms about the threat Trump’s presidency poses to America’s standing in the world and to our democratic system itself. On Saturday, he also took on Trump over what could be a critical 2020 issue: the economy.
“I know President Trump likes to take credit for the economy,” he said. “But just look at the facts — not the alternative facts. President Trump inherited an economy from an Obama/Biden administration that was given to him — just like he inherited everything else in his life. And just like everything else he has been given in life, he is in the process of squandering that as well.”
Even as he trained his sights on Trump, Biden addressed head-on the questions that will dominate the Democratic primary. He acknowledged that Democrats doubt his view that he could work with Republicans in Washington if elected.
“I’m going to say some thing outrageous: I know how to make government work. Not because I have talked or tweeted about it, but because I have done it,” he said, citing his work to convince swing Republican votes to back the 2009 Recovery Act as one example. “I helped make government work. I can do that again.”
But he also said he understands that there are times Democrats would have to fight on their own to advance their goals.
“I know how to go toe to toe with the GOP, but it does not have to be, and it cannot be on every single issue,” he said.
Saturday’s rally marked the end of a three-week campaign rollout for the former vice president in which he laid out the rationale for his candidacy and addressed voters in each of the four early-voting states, promising to work as hard as anyone to earn their support.
In the month ahead, though, Biden will turn toward readying himself for the next major test of his frontrunner status: the first primary debate. His public schedule is expected to be more limited, with several major policy speeches possible in addition to fundraising swings through New York, Texas and Florida.
On Saturday, Biden outlined policy priorities for his administration in broad strokes, calling for a clean energy revolution, a public option on health care, and protecting a woman’s right to an abortion. But achieving those goals started with one key step, he reminded the audience.
“The single most important thing we have to accomplish to get this done … is defeat Donald Trump,” he said.