At N.H. Rally Ahead Of Iowa, Biden Makes Appeal To Voters' Morality

Feb 2, 2020
Originally published on February 2, 2020 10:28 am
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DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Joe Biden has been campaigning for one political office or another for decades. The former vice president is, perhaps, the most seasoned politician running for president this year, and that's obvious at his rallies. NPR's Asma Khalid has been following Biden on his campaign trail and shares this report.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Joe Biden's events don't have the electric vibe of a rock concert you might see from some of his progressive rivals. The crowds are more orderly and elderly.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, pardon me, folks. You guys all signed in?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're following her.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, beautiful. OK. No, you're good to go. How's it going, sir?

KHALID: But his supporters are still excited to see him. Before heading to Iowa for the final sprint, he was here in Salem, N.H. Dozens of people are lined up in the cold - voters from New Hampshire and quite a few from just across the state line in Massachusetts, some with their Dunkin' Donuts coffee in hand as they waited to enter a local elementary school gym. One of them was Maryann Bradley from neighboring Massachusetts.

MARYANN BRADLEY: I think he wants to unite the country, and I think we need that right now. I think we need someone who can bring everybody together. And I think he has a tremendous amount of experience, more than anybody else.

KHALID: Maryann and her husband Tom are fans of their home state senator, Elizabeth Warren. But their decision is not just about who they like.

BRADLEY: I think that Joe Biden has a better chance of beating Trump. I really do. I don't think people will vote for her.

KHALID: It's about pragmatism. And that's a common theme at Biden rallies. I bypass the clipboards and stickers and the line of voters signing up for Biden campaign updates, and I make my way inside.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You're with the press, then? OK. Come on in. Come on in here.

KHALID: OK. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Just - OK. We have some of the press coming through.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the Pledge of Allegiance.

KHALID: One common ritual at Biden rallies is the pledge. It's not a tradition for all Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: I pledge allegiance to the flag...

KHALID: After the pledge, supporters of Biden, people who are well-known in New Hampshire politics, get up to talk about why they support the former vice president. And then it's time for the candidate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN")

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) We take care of our own.

KHALID: Biden strolls through an overflow crowd, shaking hands and flashing smiles as Bruce Springsteen's song "We Take Care Of Our Own" plays on loudspeakers. It's a song Barack Obama used during his 2012 reelection.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: Hello. Hello. Hello.

KHALID: Biden takes the mic out of the podium stand so he can roam around the room as he talks. There's no stage. He's in the middle - people on chairs all around him. It's one of the more intimate setups you see on the campaign trail. Biden warns the crowd that there has never been a more consequential election in recent history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Four years of Donald Trump, as my grandfather Finnegan would say - the grace of God and the goodwill of neighbors - can go down in history as a aberration in political history of America. But eight years...

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: But eight years of Donald Trump, I honest to God believe will change the character of the nation.

KHALID: Biden often quotes his grandpa. It's one of his so-called Bidenisms (ph). You might not hear them all in every speech, but they are his trademark way of conveying earnestness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

BIDEN: My Lord.

Here's the deal.

But all kidding aside...

Not a joke, not a joke.

I promise you. I promise you.

KHALID: Biden's campaign speech is about character, country and unity. It's about aspiring to a better time. He doesn't mention his Democratic rivals by name. Biden mostly talks about President Trump as if he's the only opponent. He is the former vice president. And he readily mentions Barack Obama's name, plus his own experience on health care, foreign policy and gun control. But more than policy, his speech is an appeal to morality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I understand this new Republican Party. They've gone after me, telling lies about me, my surviving son. They've gone after him. They've gone after my whole family. So I get them. I understand them. But guess what? A president has to be willing to fight but also has to be willing to unite. He has to be able to heal.

KHALID: Biden spoke for about a half an hour. He doesn't always stick to the script and meanders around. He took no questions from the crowd and no questions from the press. A major part of his appeal to voters, though, is not actually what he says in his speeches but the one-on-one interactions he has with them afterwards - the hugs, photos and the bits of conversation.

BIDEN: What's your name?

BRUCE: Bruce, with my daughter Gabrielle.

GABRIELLE: Hi.

BIDEN: Hi, Gabrielle. How are you?

JOAN MERCIER: He's just so believable. I love him.

KHALID: That last voice is Joan Mercier.

Was there anybody else you had been considering?

MERCIER: Well, I did like Buttigieg. I'm not - I'm more towards Joe Biden, though, because of his age and his wisdom and his - the fact that he's been a vice president.

KHALID: She says the country needs someone who can quickly clean up Trump's mess and doesn't need on-the-job training. Biden's age, she feels, could be an asset. But there are plenty of Democrats who worry that age is his liability. Some say his events are underwhelming and remind them of Hillary Clinton, which worries them.

For Jim Battis, this was his second time hearing Joe Biden in person.

JIM BATTIS: To be quite honest, I had seen him once before, and he looked old.

KHALID: Battis said Biden impressed him more this time.

BATTIS: Here, he seems invigorated and has a reason to run, not just, I'm here because everybody expects me to be here.

KHALID: What gives you any hesitation with Biden?

BATTIS: It's still his age. I don't know. Maybe that's age bias on my part.

KHALID: Battis is 72, and he's not sure someone in their 70s has the energy to be president.

Asma Khalid, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUNTERTONES' "FARA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.