Ryan and Booker Temper Attacks on Biden, Urge Democratic Unity

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Jennifer Epstein

(Bloomberg) -- Two Democratic presidential hopefuls walked back their attacks on front runner Joe Biden as they faced questions Saturday about their previous statements on the former vice president.

Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who this week said he’s lost faith in the front-runner’s ability to beat Donald Trump, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who spent weeks criticizing Biden’s record on race, both said their goal is to win back the White House.

“I have some concerns with a lot of the candidates,” Ryan said at the New Hampshire state Democratic Convention in Manchester. “It was a comment that I made and I’m not backtracking from it, it is a concern you’re hearing from a lot of people.”

But Ryan, who has languished in the low single digits in polls and failed to qualify for the third debate next week, said to reporters at the event that he isn’t concerned about Biden’s age, after telling Bloomberg on Thursday that he doesn’t have faith that a “declining” Biden can defeat Trump.

When pressed to explain, Ryan cited “a lack of clarity” when Biden articulates his positions. Asked about whether such attacks threaten Democratic unity, Ryan said the party has a common goal.

‘Unifying Force’

“There is a very unifying force in this world for Democrats and he is the current occupant of the White House,” Ryan said.

In his call for unity in Manchester, Booker offered up a veiled swipe against rival Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

“We Democrats have to be careful,” Booker said in prepared remarks. “I don’t care who our nominee is, but we cannot tolerate Democrats who turn against other Democrats and try to tear us down.”

Booker’s remarks were seen as directed at Sanders, who refused to wholeheartedly back Hillary Clinton after she won the nomination in 2016.

Booker, who trails the top-tier candidates at 2.5% in a recent average of polls by RealClearPolitics.com, was asked later by reporters to explain his call for unity after repeatedly faulting Biden on race issues, including calling him “an architect of mass incarceration” for working on the 1994 tough-on-crime legislation.

“I think pointing out differences is OK,” Booker said. “I’m talking about what we’ve seen in the past election where you had Democrats literally, even after the primary was over, trying to tear down the nominee of our party.”

Sanders was widely criticized by Democrats in 2016 for not being sufficiently supportive of Clinton after she won the nomination. While Sanders eventually backed her, aides and allies complained his tone was begrudging and didn’t help bring his supporters on board.

To contact the reporters on this story: Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou in Manchester at megkolfopoul@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Epstein in Manchester at jepstein32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann

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