LAS VEGAS (AP) — As the Democratic presidential primary advances toward Super Tuesday, Joe Biden wants voters to choose a loyal Democrat. Preferably him, of course, but mostly just not Bernie Sanders or Mike Bloomberg.
“They’re not bad folks. They’re just not Democrats,” the former vice president said at a rally Friday night on the eve of Nevada’s caucuses.
Biden, needing a boost after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, has turned a sharper focus on his primary rivals this week, culminating Friday in repeated barbs of Sanders and Bloomberg.
Earlier in the day, in an interview with the Associated Press, Biden noted that Sanders, who claims the label of “democratic socialist,” once toyed with running in a primary against then-President Barack Obama in 2012, Bloomberg is the mega-billionaire and former New York mayor who was a Republican and then independent before finally declaring himself a Democrat.
Both men, Biden told The Associated Press, misrepresent their relationships with Obama, the nation’s first black president who tapped Biden, then a Delaware senator, to be his running mate in 2008.
“You can spend a billion dollars, and I guess he spent but what $400 million so far, whatever it is,” Biden said of Bloomberg’s eye-popping personal investment in his White House bid. “But you can’t hide your record,” Biden continued, pointing specifically to Bloomberg’s “stop-and-frisk” policy that, when he was mayor, effectively allowed New York police to detain disproportionate numbers of non-white residents, mostly young men, without probable cause.
On Sanders, Biden cited a recent Atlantic magazine article that cast Sanders’ consideration of a primary campaign against Obama as serious enough that Harry Reid, the powerful Nevada Democrat who was then Senate Democratic leader, stepped in personally to shut Sanders down.
“I knew he talked about someone should primary Barack for a second term, like he thought Barack wasn’t, I guess, socialist enough or whatever,” Biden said, adding that he didn’t previously know about Reid’s apparent move to step in.
“The paint is being peeled back here a little bit,” Biden said. “And I think they’re entitled to those opinions. I don’t mean they’re bad because of that. But the idea that … ‘We really loved Barack, man. He did a great job,’ is simply not turning out to be the case.”
Sanders has led all candidates in the first two nominating contests and appears to have strong support in Nevada. Bloomberg isn’t competing in any February contests, instead directing his unprecedented personal spending in the 14 states that vote on March 3. His “Super Tuesday” strategy hinges on Biden, once the national front-runner, slipping out of contention.
That makes Nevada critical for Biden after he finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire. “I think we’ll do well” in Nevada, Biden said Friday, forgoing a detailed assessment of where he must finish.
Though Bloomberg is not on Saturday’s ballots, Biden relished that his fellow candidate had a rough experience in his first debate this week in Las Vegas. Biden said the debate exposed the irony of the “stop-and-frisk” policy alongside Bloomberg’s ubiquitous ads depicting the former mayor alongside Obama.
The former president, still wildly popular among Democratic voters, hasn’t endorsed any candidate, including Biden. Obama has been mentioned prominently in several candidates’ ads and arguments, though no one has matched the breadth of Bloomberg’s recent Obama ads. Bloomberg did not support Obama’s election in 2008; he wrote a relatively tepid endorsement late in the 2012 campaign, and former Obama aides have noted that Bloomberg often criticized Obama, including his 2010 health insurance overhaul.
“Isn’t it amazing we found out how everybody is Barack’s best friend now?” Biden said sarcastically at his Friday night rally. “You look at that ad, you think, God, Barack must have endorsed him man, this must be all good.”
The former president’s aides say he’s talked to any of the candidates who’ve sought his counsel and plans to support the eventual nominee enthusiastically. Biden has said he speaks regularly to Obama, but he declined Friday to say whether he asked the former president to publicly clarify that he has not endorsed Bloomberg.
Nevada and the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29 have always been key to Biden’s path to the nomination. Iowa and New Hampshire are both overwhelmingly white and not heavily unionized. Biden’s base within the Democratic coalition is union members, older African Americans and older Latinos. Nevada’s caucus electorate could still be majority white, but narrowly so, and it’s heavily unionized, especially in the casino and tourism industry. South Carolina’s electorate, meanwhile, could be as much as two-thirds African American. Biden’s connection to Obama, in turn, is part of his pitch to African Americans, especially.
“What happens in Nevada will determine what ultimately happens in South Carolina, and so forth through Super Tuesday,” said Amanda Loveday, a prominent South Carolina Democrat who helps run a super PAC supporting Biden. “I mean, he’s said it: He has to get first or second in Nevada to be seen as viable coming into South Carolina. And I think he will.”
Those dynamics have made Biden simultaneously more aggressive and more comfortable over the last week of campaigning in Nevada, aggressive out of necessity, more at ease with clearly friendly audiences. His schedule is peppered with “back of the house tours” where he meets with casino workers along Las Vegas Strip. He’s punched at Sanders for backing a 2005 law that granted civil immunity to gun manufacturers, a notable provision to Nevadans who recall the worst mass shooting in modern American history, which occurred in Las Vegas in 2017. He’s regularly hammered Sanders’ “Medicare for All” single-payer health insurance plan as a threat to the insurance plans the powerful Culinary Union secured via collective bargaining.
Speaking to Latino campaign volunteers, Biden noted that “99% of Latinos” haven’t voted yet. At an African Methodist Episcopal church in North Las Vegas earlier this week, Biden recalled his mother once chiding him for wavering when Obama offered him a spot on the ticket in 2008. “I have a very persuasive mother,” he said.
Later, at a Black History Month festival, he promised an emcee a role in inaugural festivities if he wins. And then, at a legislative Black Caucus gala, he grew serious. “Look me over, folks,” he said. “Gimme a shot. I’m with you. I love you.”
Associated Press reporter Meg Kinnard contributed from Columbia, South Carolina.