”This time, we’re rebuilding the middle class…’
“When they call me ‘Middle Class Joe,’ that means I’m not sophisticated,” he said, “but I know who built this country.”
On Saturday, Biden made first appearance in South Carolina since he announced his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, speaking to a crowd at the Hyatt Park Community Center.
The former vice president enters the race as the frontrunner, but to win the nomination, Biden will likely need a strong performance in the February primary in South Carolina — a state where Biden has long-standing ties.
Early polling in the Palmetto State, done before Biden’s announcement, shows Biden with a strong lead in a crowded field with Democratic voters, generally, and with black voters in particular. Black voters made up 60% of Democratic voters in the 2016 S.C. primary.
The candidate is still popular with many Democrats after his eight years as vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration. Saturday’s rally featured a video introduction that included past words of praise from the former president, who called his No. 2 “Joe from Scranton.”
“If you listen to Barack, you’d think I just climbed out of a coal mine with a lunch bucket,” Biden said.
But Biden did lay a heavy emphasis on uplifting struggling working people on Saturday, saying the “basic bargain” of the American economy was that “if you contributed to the welfare of an organization, you shared in the benefit.”
“Now they’ve adopted this conservative economic philosophy that says the only people who are owed a reward are the ‘job creators,’ which they’ve decided are the CEOs and the stockholders,” Biden said, pacing the stage. “But what happens to the workers?”
“This time, we’re rebuilding the middle class,” Biden said, “and we’re bringing along everybody.”
That message resonated with Sheila Lewis of Columbia, who said she was glad Biden held his first event in the Hyatt Park neighborhood of Eau Claire.
“When he drives in here, he’ll see how horrible the roads are,” Lewis said. “I live downtown and it’s not so bad, but this is where my parents live. The grocery store on the corner just closed down. There’s nothing here for our black neighbors who are deprived.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, considered a heavily-sought endorsement among Palmetto State Democrats, introduced Biden, saying “I miss the time he spent in the White House, creating good jobs in this country.”
“It would be nice to have him back,” Benjamin said.
Biden said the economic disparity in the country has only been worsened by President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, which he says have only benefited the “top one-tenth of 1%” of the country while costing the federal government trillions, and imperiling programs like Social Security and Medicare.
“No economist can justify that much in tax cuts,” Biden said.
The former vice president said he had planned to run for president in 2016, but didn’t because his son Beau Biden got sick and died of cancer in 2015. Trump ultimately prevailed in that election against Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Biden stressed the necessity of beating Trump in 2020.
“His four years in the White House will be remembered as an aberrant moment in history,” Biden said. “But eight years will fundamentally change the character of our country.”
Many who came out to Saturday’s event said electability was a major concern for them, as they see the top priority for a Democratic nominee as being about to defeat Trump.
Jeannie Breeden of Cayce said Biden was the only Democratic candidate “middle of the road enough” to succeed.
“Our son’s not happy about it,” she said. “He made us promise we’d only vote for Bernie (Sanders).”
But Kelsey Callahan of Columbia, who said she was still researching candidates, was more optimistic about Democrats’ chances.
“Anyone will beat Donald Trump,” she said. “I could beat Donald Trump.”
For 36 years before his time in the Obama administration, Biden was the U.S. senator from Delaware, becoming one of the party’s leading voices on foreign policy from his time chairing the Foreign Relations Committee.
Biden is a regular vacationer on Kiawah Island, and just last month gave the eulogy at the Charleston funeral of former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, Biden’s longtime deskmate in the Senate.
Later on Saturday, Biden was attending a reception at the home of Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a former state party chair and longtime friend of Biden’s.
©2019 The State. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.