PHILADELPHIA – In his first major campaign rally as a Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden on Saturday presented himself as the candidate who can unite a divided country, yet offered few specifics on how he might do that.
The former vice president repeated his previous calls for free community college and providing an option to buy into the Medicare program. He also called for a clean energy revolution, arguing it would create new jobs rather than shed them.
Following the event, supporters flocked to Biden seeking selfies. Asked from a distance within the crowd what his energy plan would look like, Biden said the text of his speech is available. He did not make time for questions from the press.
Biden also told the crowd of thousands during his 30-minute speech that he rejected an idea held among some Democrats that the angrier a candidate, the more likely to clinch the party's nomination.
Still, most of his address — held at Eakins Oval across the street from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and its famous "Rocky" steps — focused on defeating President Donald Trump in 2020.
"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," Biden said. "They already have a president who does just that."
The crowd of thousands cheered with vigor. Biden is counting on such excitement to propel him in state caucuses and primaries starting next February.
More than 20 other Democrats have entered the contest.
The former longtime Delaware senator came onto the stage in Philadelphia wearing his famous Aviator sunglasses and a button-down shirt. He embraced his wife, Jill Biden, who had just spoken, while the song "Philadelphia Freedom" played in the background.
According to organizers, about 6,000 people attended the rally.
In the weeks since launching his third presidential campaign, Biden has shown he plans to make Pennsylvania voters a priority.
His national campaign headquarters will be based here. He courted union workers in Pittsburgh and he wooed donors in Philadelphia before heading to key early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
Leading up to Saturday's rally, The News Journal spoke with 40 voters in Pennsylvania counties where Trump won more votes than recent Republicans. Some voters said they simply want Trump out of the White House, while others were firm in their support for the president. And then there were those who teetered in their support for Trump, calling Biden "a good guy," while dismissing other Democrats.
A recent poll showed Biden with 39 percent of support from Pennsylvania Democrats who are likely to vote in next year's primaries. In a hypothetical general election contest against Trump, Biden would take 53 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania.
Biden often referred to his time serving as vice president to former President Barack Obama, which drew several cheers from the crowd. He also spoke of his ability to work across the aisle with Republicans, mentioning his role in helping pass the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 during the financial crisis.
“Some people are saying, 'Joe Biden doesn’t get it. You can't work with Republicans anymore. That's not the way it works anymore,'" Biden said.
But he said he's also aware that sometimes "only a bare knuckle fight will do," like when it came to passing the Affordable Care Act.
Among jabs at Trump, Biden called him the "divider-in-chief" who instills fear in the country. Biden compared the language the president uses to that of tyrants and dictators.
The recent economic growth seen under the Trump administration, Biden said, is because of the Obama administration.
"That was given to him, just like he earned everything else in his life," Biden said to crowd applause. "And just like everything he was given in life, he's in the process of squandering that as well."
Biden criticized Trump's stance on climate change and called for a "clean energy revolution." He said his "first, most important point" in his climate proposal is "beat Trump," yet didn't offer many other details on how to combat climate change.
The theme of unity resonated in the Philadelphia crowd, though it was unclear how to achieve such a lofty ideal in contemporary America. Many believed Republicans should reconsider their political ideologies to mend the country.
Adam Forgie, a Pittsburgh teacher, thinks Biden can sway Trump supporters away from "intolerance and hate."
“The other side, it’s a lot of 'You did this wrong. Shame on you,'” he said, referring to Republicans.
Tonya Conrad, a school teacher from Newark, was an independent voter until Trump became president, an event that “pushed her over the edge to becoming more liberal.”
She said too many supporters of the president fear "losing something by including others."
“Why do we have public education? Because having an educated community makes everyone better. Why do we want everyone to have access to health care? Because it makes everyone healthier,” she said.
While Conrad eagerly awaited Biden's arrival, Philadelphia resident Mike Kachur strolled around the art museum for a late morning walk. He looked curiously at the rally, but wasn't interested in entering.
Biden's ideas don't excite him, he said. Instead, he likes progressive policies put forward by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, he said.
Sanders "is a socialist," he said. "And, it's not a bad thing. I don’t know why it's such a bad word."
For Kachur, Biden as a unifier likely means he would compromise on progressive issues.
For Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, unity in part means preserving the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
“How can we find common ground?" Coons asked. “I think it’s right in front of us.”
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Biden at first major rally: Trump is 'divider-in-chief' who leads with 'hard heart'