Joe Biden gets poll boost after pitching to working class
The FT's US managing editor Peter Spiegel talks with Demetri Sevastopulo, Washington bureau chief, about Joe Biden's newly launched presidential campaign as the 20th Democrat running for the White House
If I'm going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here. It's going to happen here.
But we have a new frontrunner for the Democratic nomination of president of the United States. Former vice-president Joe Biden entered the race last week and immediately jumped way ahead of his competitors for the Democratic nomination.
I'm here with Demetri Sevastopulo, the Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times. Demetri is just back from Pittsburgh, where he saw Joe Biden's inaugural rally.
Demetri, tell me what you saw. It's been both a bad week and a good week for Joe Biden. He sort of entered the race with a lot of talk of inappropriate touching of women and questions about the Anita Hill hearing of many years ago, where he was chairman of the committee.
On the other hand, as I said, polling showing he's jumping ahead. He raised a lot of money on that first day. Was it a good week or was it a bad week for Joe Biden?
It was both. So I mean, Joe Biden after many months finally jumped into the race. He hummed and he hawed, but he decided to get in. He had led in early polls, mainly because of his name recognition. His eight years as vice-president to Barack Obama gave him a lot of visibility across the country. But people wondered, when he jumped in, would some of the questions about him come into play?
He's 76-years old. He's not a young man. He doesn't have a great track record raising money in previous campaigns. Can he raise money in a field of 20 Democrats, where it's going to be very tough? The questions about the way he's treated women and made them feel uncomfortable, how would he do with that? Would he apologise, and would women frown upon that and punish him for that in this campaign?
So he launched last week. He had kind of a mixed first day, but then he raised $6.3m in his first 24 hours, which actually beat Beto O'Rourke, who had held the record of $6.1m, and Bernie Sanders, who had reeled in $5.9m. So he showed from the get go that at least in the first 24 hours he can raise a lot of money.
His rally yesterday in Pittsburgh was slightly different from last week. So when he launched, he talked about challenging Donald Trump, trying to restore some of the moral fabric to the nation that Donald Trump is tearing apart with his rhetoric, which people say is spurring racism. In Pittsburgh yesterday, Joe Biden did something else.
He said the middle class has been suffering, the working man and woman have been suffering. I'm not going to make any apologies. I'm a union man. I'm going to fight for the workers of America and not the CEOs. And his message was basically to Democrats, I'm going to try and win back some of the working class blue-collar Democrats who went to Donald Trump in 2016 and left Hillary Clinton.
But Biden's saying: I'm your guy. I'm going to bring back jobs for workers. I'm going to tackle some of the problems that Trump said he would and hasn't, and that I'm the candidate who can actually beat Trump.
Let me get to this point you made about going to Pennsylvania and targeting that white working class voter. Pennsylvania, obviously a state that Trump won, but a traditional Democratic state. Now, playing this sort of centrist white working class card in a Democratic moment where it feels like the left and the young and the diverse bit of the Democratic party is on the rise. Can Biden really fend that off with a message that I'm going back to the traditional Democratic base in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Unions - you wrote about today that he's really focusing on these old labour unions. Is that a message that really resonates at a time when you see the young and the diverse really rising in the Democratic party?
Well, I think that that is going to be the big question that's going to be answered over the next particularly year is what is the future of the Democratic party for the next few years? And the battle between the centrists, who really is Joe Biden and a couple of other people who have less name recognition on the one hand, and then on the left side of the spectrum, you have the more progressive candidates, the Bernie Sanders, the Elizabeth Warren, and then some people in the middle. And there is a real battle for the heart and soul of the party.
Biden's argument is that there's no point going too far to the left if at the end of the day that means you're going to lose to Donald Trump. Biden supporters will say that the more you elect someone like Bernie Sanders, the more it allows Donald Trump to say the Democrat is a socialist, even say they're a Communist, if he wanted to go that far, and that you shouldn't elect them and that they're not electable.
But Biden is saying, hold on a second, there's an awful lot of people in the middle of the country, including independents, including Democrats, who went for Trump instead of Clinton four years ago. And that if you look at the outcome in 2016, had Hillary Clinton won a few tens of thousands more votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, she would have won three states that she lost, and that would have actually changed the outcome of the election.
So Biden is saying, I can tackle, I can target those people and bring them back. I'm an authentic man who is fighting for the working class Americans and Donald Trump has been a phony.
Now on the other hand, the people on the left will say, the future of their party is different. It's climate change, it's these other issues. Joe Biden has some MeToo issues. He shouldn't be the standard bearer for the Democratic party. That's going to be fought out between now and the first voting in Iowa in February next year and the ensuing primaries and caucuses.
But right now, that really is a huge fight within the Democratic party. And I think a lot of people in the party are worrying that if there's a huge fight now, will the party be able to come together with whoever the nominee is next year, to defeat Donald Trump and not be like four years ago where the Sanders camp and the Hillary camp really had a big split and a lot of Sanders supporters really didn't come out to vote for Hillary Clinton in November 2016.
Well yes, many months to go before you rest, Demetri. If you want to follow Demetri's coverage of the 2020 presidential election, please go to ft.com. Thank you for joining us.