By Agence France-Presse
Former US vice president Joe Biden took his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination to union workers in Pennsylvania on Monday as he and Republican Donald Trump vie for the support of organized labor in the crucial eastern state.
“I make no apologies. I am a union man. Period,” the 76-year-old Biden said after winning the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).
“If I’m going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020 it’s going to happen here,” he told a crowd of several hundred union members in Pittsburgh, a blue-collar city now remaking itself as a tech hub.
“With your help we’re going to be able to do that,” Biden said at his first campaign rally since he announced last week that he was joining the crowded field of 2020 Democratic nominee hopefuls.
Organized labor has long been a pillar of Democratic Party support, but Trump drew significant backing from white working-class voters — particularly men — in the 2016 election, and is hoping to do so again in 2020.
Trump, whose narrow win in Pennsylvania was one of the keys to his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, lashed out Monday at the IAFF’s endorsement of Biden and claimed that economic progress in the state would earn him the support of voters there.
“The Dues Sucking firefighters leadership will always support Democrats, even though the membership wants me,” Trump tweeted. “Some things never change.”
“(Biden) obviously doesn’t know that Pennsylvania is having one of the best economic years in its history, with lowest unemployment EVER, a now thriving Steel Industry (that was dead) & great future!” he added.
Trump accused the media of “pushing Sleepy Joe hard” and suggested Biden’s record was partly responsible for the president’s own rise to power.
“Funny, I’m only here because of Biden & (Barack) Obama. They didn’t do the job and now you have Trump, who is getting it done – big time!” he tweeted.
‘Battle for America’s soul’
Biden has set himself apart from most of the sprawling Democratic field by opting for a strategy of full-on confrontation with Trump.
During his speech, he logged several verbal volleys at the president, saying “we are in a battle for America’s soul.”
“Donald Trump is the only president who decided not to represent the whole country,” said the former vice president and long-time senator from Delaware. “We need a president who works for all Americans.
Americans need to “choose hope over fear, unity over division and maybe, most importantly, truth over lies,” he said.
Addressing the crowd of fire fighters, teachers and other union members, who broke out repeatedly into chants of “We want Joe!” Biden said: “The country wasn’t build by Wall Street bankers, CEOs and hedge fund managers.
“It was built by you!”
Biden said the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour and listed affordable education, quality healthcare and clean renewable energy as his priorities.
A Washington Post/ABC poll on Sunday put Biden in the lead among Democrats, with 17 percent support, to 11 percent for Senator Bernie Sanders and five percent for South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
He raised $6.3 million in the 24 hours after his announcement, the highest figure for any Democrat so far.
Pennsylvania voted for Trump in 2016 — after favoring Obama in the two previous elections — making it one of the key industrial states where a sense of social and economic decline and alienation seemed to play into Trump’s hands.
But Biden has long been a favorite of blue-collar voters, and he prides himself on staying close to the Democrats’ working-class supporters.
Samantha Patrick, a 32-year-old nurse, was the first in line for Biden’s event on Monday, arriving hours before the start with two children.
“My family are Big Joe Biden,” Patrick said. “He’s just such a good guy.
“We really feel like he’s the candidate who’s going to be able to beat Trump,” she said. “I think he’s going to pull back a lot of independent voters, and even some Republicans.”