The former vice president, who is trying to hold his place as a 2020 front-runner, struck a confident tone about his own prospects and dismissed any suggestion that his campaign is faltering. Bloomberg's aides said Thursday that the former New York City mayor was contemplating a presidential bid because he doesn't see the current field as strong enough to produce a nominee who can defeat President Donald Trump.
"I'm the only person in this race that has significant support in every single solitary sector" of the Democratic electorate, Biden said, pointing at national primary polls. Of talk that his own candidacy is struggling, Biden brushed it aside, saying, "I've been hearing about this for a while now."
Biden emphasized his support among African Americans, Latinos and working-class voters, plus solid standing with women and young voters. "The Democratic Party is a big tent," he said. "In order to be able to win, you have to be able to reach out and win parts of all of the constituency."
That's a message directed not only at Bloomberg, but also at Biden's progressive primary rival Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts senator has surpassed Biden in some Iowa and New Hampshire polls to become another front-runner for the nomination, putting pressure on Biden to mount more than what effectively began as a general election campaign against Trump.
Earlier this week, Biden accused Warren of being elitist in her criticism that any Democrat who doesn't back her progressive proposals on health care, education and other matter might be "running in the wrong presidential primary." He and his aides also have become more aggressive in suggesting Warren isn't being honest about the cost of her progressive plans or the likelihood that she could get them passed in Congress.
In New Hampshire on Friday, Biden said he wasn't trying to personally attack the senator; he called her "a very, very, very competent candidate," but said she sets an unfair standard with an ideological purity test.
"I'm not saying she's out of touch," Biden said. "But to turn around and say to the millions of Democrats out there that, in fact, if you don't agree with me, then you are lacking courage ... and you are not a Democrat, that's not how we run the Democratic Party."
Biden aides and donors say they see the nominating fight crystallizing as a choice between the progressivism of Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the more mainstream liberalism of Biden and other candidates like Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
For example, Buttigieg and Biden call for adding a public option health insurance plan to compete alongside private insurance, while Warren and Sanders want single-payer, government-run "Medicare for all" insurance that would replace private markets. Warren and Sanders propose making all public four-year college tuition free. Biden wants taxpayers to cover two years of community and technical college. Warren and Sanders propose steep tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans. Biden wants to repeal the top Republican tax cuts of 2017 and raise capital gains taxes.
The former vice president and his advisers believe his approach is more in line with both the primary and general electorate. Biden noted Friday and on a conference call with donors earlier this week that most of the freshman House Democrats who flipped GOP districts last November backed his health care outline, not Medicare for all, and won because most voters are wary of completely overhauling the insurance system.
"How many folks did you hear up here saying, 'Let's rid of it all'?" Biden asked reporters Friday. Bloomberg and some establishment Democrats offer similar assessments of Warren, openly fretting that she's too far left to defeat Trump in a general election, even as they also express concerns about Biden's strength.
Trying to assuage those Democrats, Biden has begun arguing more forcefully that his long record as a six-term senator from Delaware and a two-term vice president separate him as the candidate who can accomplish what he's proposing and is honest about his policy's costs.
For her part, Warren stands by her $20 trillion cost estimate for the first decade of single-payer and says that and other programs can be covered by a combination of existing insurance premium spending by employers and new taxes on the wealthy and corporations. "If Joe Biden doesn't like that ... I'm just not sure where he's going," she said recently while campaigning in Iowa.
Biden countered Friday that Warren's absolutist rhetoric isn't just bad internal party politics, but it would also lead to a failed presidency. "That's not how you're going to go into the United States Congress, the United State Senate and say, 'Here's my plan, please pass it,'" Biden said. "The next president's going to inherit a divided nation," he said later. "You can't get anything done if you don't begin to unite it."
Barrow reported from Atlanta.
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