Biden's Pitch To White Working-Class Voters

May 2, 2019
Originally published on May 2, 2019 6:26 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Joe Biden sees an opportunity. A lot of working-class voters and union members abandoned the Democrats to vote for Trump in 2016. But Biden thinks he can win them back. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Joe Biden's pitch to working-class voters starts from the instant he's introduced at his rallies, as Bruce Springsteen's "We Take Care Of Our Own" blasts through the loudspeakers on cue.

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

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

GONYEA: Biden got into the race exactly a week ago. In his stump speech, he goes after President Trump, attacking Trump's policies, his rhetoric, his Twitter habits. But just as prominently, Biden is reaching out directly to voters he sees as a key to winning the White House - working men and women and union members. In Pittsburgh, at his very first rally, there was a shoutout to the Teamsters local hosting the event and one to the Fire Fighters Union, which had just endorsed Biden, and the steelworkers. It went on from there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: United Brotherhood of the Carpenters, Service Employees Union, SEIU, United Food and Commercial Workers. By the way, I make no apologies. I am a union man...

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: ...Period.

GONYEA: And, Biden says, the campaign's first event was held in Pittsburgh and not Iowa or New Hampshire because Democrats struggled among blue-collar voters here in 2016, allowing Trump to narrowly carry the state on his way to victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: I also came here because quite frankly, folks, if I'm going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here.

UNIDENTIFIED RALLY GOER: Yeah.

GONYEA: From there, it was on to Iowa, including Dubuque, Iowa City and Des Moines. The blue-collar pitch remained front and center. This was in Cedar Rapids.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: The stock market is roaring. But you don't feel it. There are - $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it? Of course not. Of course not.

GONYEA: He said it's time for a $15 an hour federal minimum wage and for strengthening workers' right to organize.

UNIDENTIFIED RALLY CROWD: (Chanting) We want Joe. We want Joe. We want Joe.

GONYEA: In the process, Biden seemed to get under the president's skin. Trump targeted him in a series of taunting tweets. Trump also used the format to attack the International Association of Fire Fighters for its endorsement of Biden. In the audience in Pittsburgh was firefighter Lou Guzzo. He's for Biden.

LOU GUZZO: I'm a working man. He's for the working man. That's what I'm here for.

GONYEA: Trump talks a lot about the working man.

GUZZO: He talks a lot, yes.

GONYEA: Sounds like there's a but there.

GUZZO: I just - you know, I don't agree with the way he approaches stuff.

GONYEA: Another Biden supporter is 32-year-old registered nurse Samantha Petrick (ph). She describes herself as a moderate Democrat and says that's what she sees in Biden, compared to the rest of the Democratic field.

SAMANTHA PETRICK: I like a lot of the candidates. But again, I just feel like he has the appeal. I think a lot of them go a little bit too left, and I think we're going to miss a lot of those people in the middle if we go with somebody more left.

GONYEA: At the rally in Cedar Rapids, I met a Democrat named Mike Dennis. He's 76 and a retired member of the local Plumbers and Pipefitters union. He's deciding between Biden and Bernie Sanders.

MIKE DENNIS: I like Joe. I like Bernie. He's been here in town. He's walked the picket lines with us, and all that stuff.

GONYEA: Dennis says he knows Democrats who voted Trump and says winning them back won't be easy.

DENNIS: I've got some friends that are union members that voted for Trump, and about half of 'em - three-fourths of us are Democratic. And they'll get up and walk out on us because they just think that we're not giving Trump a chance.

GONYEA: Making it even harder is an overall economy that remains strong with low unemployment. Still, economic anxiety is real, and Biden is making the case that Trump makes that even worse. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.