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Former Vice President Joe Biden Joins 2020 Presidential Race


Today is the day Joe Biden finally jumped into the 2020 presidential race. The former vice president announced his decision early this morning with a video message. He began with Charlottesville and President Trump's response to white supremacist violence there two years ago. Biden said there is a battle for the soul of this country.


JOE BIDEN: I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an abhorrent moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation - who we are - and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.

SHAPIRO: Well, we begin our coverage with NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: Biden is the 20th Democratic candidate to jump in the race. Is he the last one? Are we done now?

LIASSON: I can't think of another person who would be a major Democratic candidate who hasn't gotten in yet, so I think we are just about done. And in terms of the shape of the field right now, we see that Joe Biden is at the top of the polls, even though they don't matter that much this early, second - close second, Bernie Sanders. And what's really interesting is there doesn't seem to be an ideological battle going on because 75%-plus of Democrats say they'd be fine with either Sanders or Biden. And an Iowa poll recently showed that they were the second choice of each other's supporters. In other words, if you think that there's not much difference between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, ideology is not high on the list for Democrats.

SHAPIRO: How do President Trump and his allies view Biden?

LIASSON: Well, it's interesting. The conversations I used to have with White House advisers were, the only candidate we worry about is Joe Biden, but he'll never get the nomination. He's too much of a centrist. The new conversation with Trump advisers is, any Democrat who wins the nomination will have to have moved so far to the left to get the nomination that we will be able to disqualify them as a socialist.

And there's also, I think, a lot of disdain for Joe Biden's abilities as a candidate. I think the Trump campaign thinks that he is not very formidable. People have been pretty insulting about him privately, and you can see the president being pretty insulting about him in his tweets - sleepy Joe, I don't know if you're smart enough to get the nomination.

SHAPIRO: That video that Biden put out really focused on President Trump and his reaction to Charlottesville. A lot of Democrats have said that was what the Democratic Party did wrong in 2016 - was focusing too much on Trump, and they should focus instead on what they stand for, independent of Trump. How is Biden navigating this?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, it's just a video. He's going to give a ton of speeches. We're going to see - if that's the only thing he ever says, yes, I think that would be a huge mistake. But we are now into the Trump administration. He has a record that Democrats can say, do you like this or not? The message Joe Biden sent today had two parts - one, for general election - I'm the strongest Democrat to beat Trump - because he knows that's what Democrats want more than anything else. And the second message - because he talked about Charlottesville so much, he is focusing on the base of the Democratic Party - heavily African American. That's what matters in a primary.

SHAPIRO: OK, so now Biden's going to travel to Pennsylvania next week for his first event. He's going to visit early voting states like Iowa and South Carolina. What are you looking for as he goes out to meet voters?

LIASSON: I'm looking for a couple of things. First of all, as he gives these speeches, a lot of them will be about policy. He has a middle class speech on Monday in Pittsburgh. Will he lay out a vision for the future of the country? What are his specific remedies for how to make free market capitalism work again to provide broadly shared prosperity, to restore economic mobility - to basically work again for the middle class? That's one thing. I'm also interested to see if he adjusts his retail politicking style at all. He is, as we know, a very handsy, tactile politician. He got in trouble for that recently. Will he dial that back, or will he still be hugging everyone in sight?

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.