Former vice president Joe Biden – a man who would start as favourite among Democratic presidential candidates – has denied kissing a political activist without her consent, an accusation that could create problems for him if he enters the 2020 race.
Two days after Lucy Flores, a Democratic activist and elected politician from Nevada, claimed Mr Biden had kissed her on the head at an event in 2014 and made her feel uncomfortable, he said he did not believe he had ever once “acted inappropriately”.
Yet, he also admitted his memory may be different to that of others. “I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear,” he said in a statement on Sunday morning. “But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
Mr Biden, 76, has said he has “95 per cent” decided he will contest for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020, and some reports suggest he will formally announce some time in April. If he does run, it would be his third attempt.
An average of polls collated by Real Clear Politics puts Mr Biden a clear eight points ahead of his nearest Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, who in turn is eleven points clear of Kamala Harris. Beto O’Rourke is in fourth position, and Elizabeth Warren is in fifth.
But while Mr Biden tops such polls, commentators have pointed out that after almost four decades in political life, the man who was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and has long seen himself as a champion of the working class, has considerable baggage.
Ms Flores, a member of the Nevada state assembly and an activist with Mr Sanders’ Our Revolution group, said the vice president had “inhaled” her hair and kissed the back of her head just before she went on stage. The event was being held for him to endorse her Democratic candidacy.
In an article published in The Cut, Ms Flores said: “I was mortified. I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual f***? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?”
— Bill Russo (@BillR)March 31, 2019
This is not the first time Mr Biden faced criticism over seminally awkward or inappropriate interactions with women in public.
In 2015, the Washington Post’s comedy writer Alexandra Petri wrote an article titled “What are we going to do about Creepy Uncle Joe Biden?”. The name has stuck.
On Sunday morning, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, took an opportunity to attack Mr Biden. In an interview on Fox News, Ms Conway said Ms Flores, was “very bold to come forward” against someone in her own political party and wondered why Mr Biden had not apologised to her.
Mr Biden also faces questions about his age and his questionable record on race relations.
While commentators say some African Americans – especially older ones – could back his candidacy because of the support the provided to Barack Obama’s presidency, they also point to his support of the controversial 1994 crime bill that discriminated against minority communities, and his disrespectful questioning of Anita Hill when she testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
In recent weeks, Mr Biden met with Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost her bid to win the governorship of Georgia last year.
Reports have suggested, Mr Biden’s advisors have been considering the option of him announcing with a declared running mate, and that they would love Ms Abrams, an African American and a rising star within the party, to be on the ticket with him.