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As Biden Jumps In 2020 Race, He Joins Crowded Democratic Field In N.H.

Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Vice President Joe Biden becomes the 20th Democrat to get in the 2020 presidential race. Josh Rogers, NHPR’s senior political reporter, joined Emily Quirk to talk about Biden kicking off his campaign and the state of the race as it now stands in New Hampshire.

After eight years as vice president and decades of representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate, Joe Biden is definitely a known quantity. But what's his political experience been like here in New Hampshire?

He did run for president twice before this. In 1988, he was seen as a strong candidate when he got into that race. But that campaign lasted only four months; it was hurt by issues of plagiarism both of campaign speeches and some issues when Joe Biden was a law student years before that. There was also an unfortunate incident for Biden that happened here in New Hampshire, in Claremont, that was captured by C-SPAN. A voter asked Biden about his law school record. Biden got very angry very quickly, said he bet he had a higher IQ than the voter did. And then he followed up with a bunch of claims about his academic credentials that were not accurate. When that video became a big news story, Biden ended up quickly dropping out.

He ran again in 2008, and 20 years later he was stressing his experience and on foreign policy. Democrats that year really focused on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Biden never really picked up steam here, or really any place else, and after a bad finish in the Iowa caucuses, he pulled the plug before ballots in New Hampshire were even cast. So, a mixed record for Joe Biden here in New Hampshire as a candidate and as a campaigner. But eight years as vice president to Barack Obama, that's no small thing. How big it turns out to be this year, remains to be seen. But having big name recognition in a large field is certainly a good thing to have.

You mentioned the big field. It seems like they've all been here lately. What's the state of this race as Biden gets in?

Well, it depends. It has been very busy, voters are engaged and there have been big crowds at a lot of the events I've attended, bigger for some than others, but it really does feel wide open. But with so many candidates splitting the vote, it means the guy who won the last New Hampshire Democratic primary with ease, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is also looking pretty good. Issues that Sanders alone championed four years ago -- single payer health care, tuition free college, I could go on -- those are now pretty much mainstream among Democratic candidates. And with his core issues being where many Democratic voters now seem to be, he's looking pretty good.

We're still a very long ways off, and most Democratic-leaning voters I talked to say they plan to really weigh their options. I was talking to a Democratic strategist who made the point that traditional measures of campaigns here -- you know, you roll out endorsements, you announce your county chairs -- that doesn't seem to be happening this year. And she chalked that up to the fact that Democrats realize they have got a really serious choice to make in choosing someone to take on President Trump, and that those decisions may come later. But voters I've talked to here have really confirmed that they're weighing their options carefully and that they don't plan to make up their mind for a long time.

So when Joe Biden gets here -- I believe he's coming for the first time May 13th -- what's he going to hear from voters?

A big part of the choice Democrats face is obviously about the direction of the country and if you watch Biden's announcement video he's certainly casting that choice between continuing with President Trump or choosing someone else in very, very stark terms. But if you go to a Democratic event you can also see many ways in which voters here see this race as one about the direction of the Democratic Party. You can hear that in the questions that candidates are being asked on policy issues, be it health care, global warming, or criminal justice. But there's also lots of soul searching generationally for Democrats, and there's also a lot of talk about what you might call identity issues, things like gender race and age. On issues like those, those are things Joe Biden is going to have to navigate.

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