PHILADELPHIA — Joe Biden is betting on Pennsylvania to take down President Donald Trump.
The former vice president was born in Scranton, earned the nickname of “Pennsylvania’s third senator” while serving in the Senate, and will base his campaign headquarters in Philadelphia.
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As he capped a three-week campaign launch tour with a rally Saturday in Philadelphia, Biden said he chose to be here for a reason.
“Why do we begin this journey in this place, Philadelphia?” Biden asked a crowd of thousands of supporters here. “This was the birthplace of our democracy.”
If Biden were to become the Democratic nominee for president, Pennsylvania could be crucial in seizing the White House from Republicans. Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016, a feat that helped him smash through the Democratic “blue wall” in industrial states and secure a majority of electoral college votes.
The former vice president is quickly making inroads here. He not only is headquartered in Philadelphia, but made his first official campaign appearance at a union hall in Pittsburgh and hosted a big-donor fundraiser in Philadelphia.
Thousands of supporters showed up to hear the former vice president as he flipped between calling for a unified nation and assailing Trump as the “divider in chief.”
“Some say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity. That they are angry, and the angrier you are, the better,” Biden said. “Well, I don’t believe it. I really don’t. I believe Democrats want to unify this nation.”
Biden recited the famous words from the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” words he said served as a foundation for the American ideals of equality, equity and fairness.
“America didn’t live up to that promise for most of the people, for people of color, for women,” Biden said. “But we are born of an idea that every single solitary person in this country — given half a chance no matter where you start in life — there is not a single thing they cannot do if they work at it.”
The former vice president spent much of his speech ticking off a long list of policy areas, including climate change and health care, where he would flip the script back to approaches forged under the Obama administration.
But he drew some of his biggest cheers of the afternoon as he went after Trump aggressively, calling out “childish behavior” and airing his grievances on Twitter.
“If the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and a hard heart, to demonize the opponents and spew hatred — they don’t need me. They’ve got President Donald Trump” Biden said. “I am running to offer our country — Democrats, Republicans and independents — a different path.”
Even though he’s only technically been in the race for a few weeks, Biden has already broken far away from the pack of the 22 other candidates who have declared they are running for the Democratic nomination.
Biden’s strong name recognition has helped him lead in every national poll taken since he announced his candidacy in April. He’s also established wide early-state leads in New Hampshire and South Carolina, while lapping up endorsements.
Early polls are also showing that Biden would beat Trump here in a hypothetical 2020 match-up. In a survey of Pennsylvania voters, Quinnipiac University found that Biden out-polled Trump 53 percent to 42 percent. About 60 percent of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania say that Biden has the best chance of beating Trump, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, at 6 percent.
At Saturday’s rally, just steps away from the Philadelphia Art Museum, the crowd at one point broke out into chants of “We want Joe! We want Joe!”
The event also felt like authentic Biden. Before taking the stage, he ripped off his aviator sunglasses, and threw his jacket into the crowd.
He then made a point to say that while he loves Pennsylvania, his first allegiance is to the state he served.
“Jill is a Philadelphia girl, she loves this city, I do too,” Biden said of his wife. “To paraphrase the poet James Joyce, when I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.”