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Biden Formally Enters 2020 Presidential Campaign

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Former Vice President Joe Biden is running for president. He's been deliberating this choice for months but now it is official. Biden posted this video on Twitter this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

JOE BIDEN: The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy - everything that has made America America is at stake. That's why today I'm announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.

GREENE: Now, a big question facing Biden is whether he is the right Democratic candidate for this moment. Some in the party have gone to the left, and Biden is seen as more centrist. And so is Matt Bennett. He's the executive vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a center-left think tank. And he's in our studios this morning.

Good morning.

MATT BENNETT: Good morning.

GREENE: So this is already the largest Democratic field in recent memory. We were joking with one of our colleagues this morning, there might not be enough room on stage for some of the debates. Folks of all kinds of backgrounds, ideology - what does Joe Biden add that was not already represented?

BENNETT: Well, as you point out, almost everyone who is over 35 and born in the United States, as a Democrat, apparently is running for president this year. But what Biden brings is familiarity and very, very deep experience. He is - almost universal name ID. He was vice president of the United States. He was in the Senate for nearly 40 years. And he has global experience that no one else in this field could possibly match. And in most years, that would be extraordinarily good news for him. It's not clear that it is this year.

GREENE: Why do you say that? Why would all this experience not necessarily be a good thing?

BENNETT: Well, because it does seem that the Democratic electorate is looking for freshness and new ideas in a moment when he's selling experience and familiarity. Now, he's No. 1 in the polls still. It's possible that people kind of gravitate towards him and his comfort and familiarity. But it's not clear that that's going to be the thing people want, ultimately.

GREENE: Let's listen to a little more of his video. This is him talking about the country's values and seeming to echo a message of hope we heard from the last president of the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

BIDEN: It instills, in every person in this country, the belief that no matter where you start in life, there's nothing you can't achieve if you work at it. That's what we believe. And above all else, that's what's at stake in this election.

GREENE: Is tying himself to the Obama years a strength, a weakness or otherwise? I mean, I think Biden has already called himself an Obama-Biden Democrat.

BENNETT: I think it's a strength. And it's also inevitable. He was vice president to President Obama for eight years. He cannot escape that. That is the central fact about Joe Biden. And leaning into it, I think, is smart.

GREENE: Well, you said - you mentioned some of the struggles he might face in this race. And, you know, we're talking about a diverse field. He's 76. He's a white man, seen as a centrist. What would you suggest, in terms of a strategy, for arguing that he is not out of touch with these times?

BENNETT: Well, I think his greatest strength, in addition to his familiarity and experience, is that he is articulating an idea about the economy that is deeply resonant. What Joe - and this is what you always hear about Joe Biden - is he's in touch with people. And he is. What he understands is that in this very unsettled, digital and global age people are living in, there is a real crisis of opportunity. People are having a very hard time making ends meet and living middle-class lives. And he really connects with that deep kind of feeling that people have out there in most parts of this country.

GREENE: I mean, obviously people like Elizabeth Warren, people like Bernie Sanders, talk about how much people are struggling and have come up with policy solutions. You keep using the term connect. Is it in terms of policy? Or are you saying it's in terms of just his personality, that he can connect with voters in a way that others can't?

BENNETT: I think it's both. He is clearly an unbelievably good retail politician. He's just very comfortable with people. But his policy ideas are connecting because people in this country want the opportunity to earn a good life. They want to go out there and earn it for themselves. Others in the field are offering kind of very big, sweeping government programs. What Biden is talking about is saying, look. The government has to play a role in helping people adjust to this new economy. But that doesn't mean that we need to kind of socialize one-fifth of the American economy, as others in the field are proposing - around health care, for example.

GREENE: I just think about his long track record the critics will be able to dig into and certain moments. I mean, he has acknowledged that his handling of the Anita Hill hearings. I mean, she was grilled. And he played a role as chairman of that committee. He supported a gun law that the NRA has celebrated in the '80s, saying that it did a ton to protect gun rights in America. Aren't these the very issues that a lot of progressive voters are interested in? And how does he avoid having people look back and say, see; Joe Biden, I mean, you weren't with us when we needed you?

BENNETT: Well, look. That could be an attack on him. But remember that almost everyone in politics - particularly people who have been in politics for decades - they change. Their views evolve over time. And Joe Biden led the fight to pass the Brady Act in the '90s and the assault weapons ban as part of the crime bill, so he's got a lot to say on almost every issue. But he entered the Senate in the 1970s. Things were quite different then. And Democratic ideas have evolved enormously in the last 50 years.

GREENE: You know, I've covered him in previous presidential campaigns. And, I mean, he does connect with voters in these small settings in a way that you don't always see candidates do. But his candidacies have fizzled. I mean, they weren't successful in previous times. Why is this time different, if it is?

BENNETT: Well, I think he has the authority of office. He's the vice president of the United States and will be forever. And also, remember. Sometimes, candidates start off rocky with their first runs. Ronald Reagan didn't win the first time. But you can come back and win in subsequent runs.

GREENE: Matt Bennett is executive vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a center-left think tank, talking to us this morning about Joe Biden becoming the 20th Democrat in the 2020 presidential race.

Matt, thanks for your time.

BENNETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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