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Former US Vice President Biden enters 2020 presidential race

Former US Vice President Biden enters 2020 presidential race

U.S. former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Delaware, U.S. March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON: Former US Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday (Apr 25) formally announced his entry into the race for the Democratic party's presidential nomination for the 2020 election.

"We are in the battle for the soul of this nation," Biden said in a stark video released online, calling on voters to deny Republican US President Donald Trump a second term in office.

In the three-and-a-half minute video, Biden said he couldn't stand idly by while Trump "fundamentally altered the character of this nation".

READ: Joe Biden: Popular, seasoned Democrat with a cumbersome past

"The core values of this nation ... our standing in the world ... our very democracy ... everything that has made America - America - is at stake," he wrote in the post.

"That's why today I'm announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.

Even before his official announcement, Biden, who served eight years as Barack Obama's vice president, led most surveys of Democratic voters.

The RealClearPolitics poll aggregate puts him as favourite with 29.3 per cent support, followed by independent Senator Bernie Sanders at 23 per cent.

Biden, 76, had been wrestling for months over whether to run. His candidacy will face numerous questions, including whether he is too old and too centrist for a Democratic Party yearning for fresh faces and increasingly propelled by its more vocal liberal wing.

Biden starts as leader of the pack in opinion polls of a Democratic field of 20 contenders seeking a chance to challenge Trump, the likely Republican nominee, in November 2020.

Critics say his standing in polls is largely a function of name recognition for the former US senator from Delaware, whose more than four decades in public service includes eight years as former President Barack Obama's No. 2 in the White House.

Obama's spokeswoman Katie Hill said in a statement after Biden's announcement that Obama has long said selecting Biden to be his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made. 

The statement fell short of a formal endorsement, but said Obama relied on Biden's insight, knowledge and judgement through both election campaigns and his entire presidency.

As speculation about his bid mounted, Biden faced new questions about his propensity for touching and kissing strangers at political events, with several women coming forward to say he had made them feel uncomfortable.

Biden struggled in his response to the concerns, at times joking about his behaviour. But ultimately, he apologised and said he recognized standards for personal conduct had evolved in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Trump and his allies seized on the flap, attempting to weaken the incumbent president's likely top rival before Biden entered the race.

Even so, Biden was determined to push forward, arguing that his background, experience and resume best positioned him to take on Trump next year.

In a speech to union members in April, Biden called Trump a "tragedy in two acts".

"This country can’t afford more years of a president looking to settle personal scores," he said.

In his announcement on Thursday, Biden held up the example of the August 2017 attack at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that killed a female counterprotester as a defining moment for the nation.

"It was there ... we saw (Ku Klux) Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open ... bearing the fangs of racism," Biden said, criticising Trump's remarks at the time that there were "very fine people on both sides".

There was no moral equivalence between racists and those fighting such inequality, he said.

"In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime," said Biden.

Biden's candidacy will offer early hints about whether Democrats are more interested in finding a centrist who can win over the white working-class voters who backed Trump in 2016, or someone who can fire up the party's diverse progressive wing, such as Senators Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

His long history in the Senate, where Biden was a leading voice on foreign policy, will give liberal activists plenty to criticise. 

As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, he angered women's rights activists with his handling of sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas during the justice's 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

He also has been censured over his ties to the financial industry, which is prominent in his home state of Delaware, and for his authorship of a 1994 crime act that led to increased incarceration rates.

Biden has been one of the party's more aggressive Trump critics. Last year, he said he would have "beat the hell" out of Trump if the two were in high school because of the way the president has talked about women. 

That prompted Trump to call him "Crazy Joe Biden" and to claim on Twitter that Biden would "go down fast and hard, crying all the way" if they fought.

Biden later lamented the exchange, saying: "I shouldn't get down in the mosh pit with this guy."

Known for his verbal gaffes on the campaign trail, Biden failed to gain traction with voters during his previous runs in 1988 and 2008.

He dropped his 1988 bid amid allegations he had plagiarised some of his stump oratory and early academic work. But his experience and strong debate performances in 2008 impressed Obama enough that he tapped Biden as his running mate.

Biden decided against a 2016 presidential bid after a lengthy public period of indecision, as he struggled with doubts over whether he and his family were ready for a grueling campaign while mourning his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in May 2015. His son had urged him to run.Biden faced some of the same family considerations this time around as he continues to cope with Beau's demise, while his other son, Hunter, has gone through a divorce.

Source: Reuters/afp/aa/hm

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