Former Vice President Joe Biden told a key labor ally he may need their energy “in a few weeks,” as he nears a decision on whether to join a crowded Democratic field for what would be his third run for president.
“I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here,” Biden told a meeting of the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington on Tuesday. “Save it a bit longer. I may need it in a few weeks.”
When his remarks were met with a standing ovation and chants of “run, Joe, run,” Biden added, “Be careful what you wish for.”
The former Delaware senator and vice president to Barack Obama appears poised to enter the Democratic nomination race unless he has a last-minute change of heart, according to people who have spoken with him in recent weeks.
He would enter as a frontrunner, though it’s unclear whether he’d maintain that advantage once he’s actually on the campaign trail and vying for votes from a Democratic base that is increasingly made up of younger voters, minorities and women.
“He’s going through this strategic process to consider everything that one has to consider to make the decision,” IAFF President Harold Schaitberger said Monday. “If he pulls the trigger to run, so will we.”
On Tuesday, Biden tested out some themes of his potential campaign, which would rest heavily on his appeal to working-class voters while resisting other Democrats’ aggressive attacks on big business.
“I look around this room and I see the people who built this nation,” he told the fire fighters union. “The country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs and hedge fund managers — they’re not necessarily bad — they didn’t build this country. It was built by a great American middle class and unions built the middle class.”
Biden made no mentions of Donald Trump but did criticize the president’s impact on policy and on the tone of American life and politics.
“In America, everybody gets a shot,” he said. “That’s what the next president of the United States needs to understand and that’s what I don’t think this current president understands at all.”
Trump’s 2020 budget proposal, released Monday, includes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that he said are aimed at paying for tax cuts for the wealthy.
“Trading Medicare and Medicaid for tax breaks? How’s that going to help anybody in this room or most of the people you live with? How’s that going to help this country,” he said.
Biden ran in 1988 and 2008, though neither campaign got far. He considered another White House bid for the 2016 nomination but opted against running after the death of his son Beau.
Biden is expected to wait until early April to announce so that he’ll have nearly three full months to raise money before filing his first quarterly fundraising disclosure. The next public event on his schedule is the Delaware Democratic Party’s dinner on Saturday in Dover.
As he worked a long rope line of potential supporters on Tuesday, Biden was mobbed by reporters who tried to pry out more details of his 2020 plans. “We’ll announce that pretty soon,” he said.
At 76, Biden is four years older than President Donald Trump and one year younger than the oldest current candidate for the Democratic nomination: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 77.
Biden was first sworn into the Senate in 1973, leaving him with a lengthy record of votes and public statements that do not all align with his current positions, including his advocacy in the 1990s for mass incarceration. He’s faced criticism from Democratic activists for praising Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence, whom he described as a “decent guy” before walking back that statement.
Biden leads in most national and early-primary state polls, though name recognition is often a key driver of results during this phase of the election cycle. He was the leading candidate with 27 percent support from likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers in a Des Moines Register poll released Saturday.
Sanders, who entered the race last month, came in second with the backing of 25 percent of those surveyed. Every other of the more than a dozen declared or likely candidates drew the support of less than 10 percent of those surveyed. The poll was conducted March 3-6 and has a 4.9 percentage point margin of error.