Joe Biden is telling black voters: I’m your guy, “warts and all.”
The former vice president has made an unusually direct pitch to black voters, saying he’s the Democratic candidate they know best after the eight years he spent by the side of President Barack Obama.
“People know me," Biden told a small group of prominent black reporters. "After all this time, I think they have a sense of what my character is, who I am, warts and all.”
Biden said he was uniquely qualified to win black support because he feels “comfortable” with the community. That is a fairly explicit reference to the ease with which he played the role of Obama’s political wing man.
“I have never, ever, ever, in my entire life, had a circumstance where I have felt uncomfortable in the black community,” Biden said. He suggested claiming the same is not true among many liberal whites.
Biden, 76, is increasingly relying on dominant support among black voters to keep his overall lead as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other rivals rise in recent polls.
It wasn’t exactly clear what Biden meant by “warts and all,” but it could refer to his controversial moderate past positions like his support of the 1994 crime bill, which has been slammed as a blueprint for mass incarceration of black suspects. Or he may have been seeking to defuse recurring questions about his propensity for gaffes on the campaign trail.
Biden said he “doesn’t know” why he has so far maintained a strong lead among black voters over Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) both of whom are black.
But he is clearly betting that black voters will reward him for being Obama’s loyal soldier, a role that not every older white politician would have played.
He also suggested that black voters prefer his brand of moderate liberalism to Harris’s progressive credentials or Booker’s pitch as a young reformer.
Biden criticized Harris for successfully sucker-punching him at the first Democratic debate when she grilled him over his past opposition to busing to achieve racial desegregation of schools and his ability to work with segregationist Democrats in the 1970s.
Despite his strong lead in polls, Biden faces an uncomfortably similar scenario to that of Hillary Clinton in 2008. After losing the Iowa caucus to upstart Barack Obama, she saw her once-potent lead with black voters evaporate. Obama crushed her in South Carolina, where the majority of Democratic voters are African Americans, and went on to win huge majorities of black voters elsewhere.
Biden is struggling in polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire. If he loses both those contests and either Harris or Booker performs well, they might succeed in repeating Obama’s road map.