Biden pitches himself as 'union man' in first major campaign speech

Biden pitches himself as 'union man' in first major campaign speech

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report Giuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry MORE opened his 2020 presidential bid on Monday with a pitch to organized labor, vowing to take on what he described as a broken political system that has eroded the middle class and given rise to intense divisions.

Speaking at a banquet hall in Pittsburgh in his first major speech since announcing his candidacy last week, Biden described himself as a “union man,” a label that drew cheers from an audience of labor union members.

“All across America, unions are hurting,” Biden said “With too many people left out or left behind, our political system is broken. We’re tearing America apart rather than lifting it up.”

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Biden’s speech came four days after he announced that he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, putting to rest years of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation about his political future.

The speech also came hours after Biden snagged a key endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the first major labor union to throw its support behind a candidate in the 2020 race.

Speaking amid chants of “We want Joe,” the former vice president painted a picture of a political and economic system that favors the wealthy.

And despite President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE’s efforts to appeal to the middle class, Biden said, the real estate mogul had only worsened the outlook for working Americans.

“The middle class is hurting. It’s hurting now,” Biden said. “The stock market is roaring, but you don’t feel it. There was a $2 trillion tax cut last year. Did you feel it? Did you get anything from it?”

The location of his first major campaign speech — in Pittsburgh — was significant in itself; an acknowledgement of just how eager Democrats are to win Pennsylvania after former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Krystal Ball credits Gabbard's upswing in 2020 race to 'feckless' Democratic establishment Outsider candidates outpoll insider candidates MORE’s stunning loss to President Trump in the state in 2016.

“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 in western Pennsylvania,” Biden said.

Trump isn’t likely to yield the state to Democrats in 2020 without a fight. The president’s campaign aides and Republican officials see Pennsylvania as a crucial part of Trump’s path to 270 electoral votes and are plotting out a strategy to hold it 2020.

Trump had lashed out at Biden in a string of tweets earlier, venting his frustration after the former vice president scored the endorsement of the major firefighters union.

The attacks suggested Trump sees Biden as a formidable general-election opponent who could gain support from white, working-class voters in states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Biden’s labor-forward message was on full display on Monday. Minutes before he took the stage at the Teamsters Local 249 banquet hall in Pittsburgh, Harold Schaitberger, the general president of the IAFF, heaped praise on Biden.

“There’s no question Joe is the one candidate in 2020 who stands above the rest when it comes to a career standing up for people who work for a living and hold a union card,” he said.

“He knows that labor and union built the middle class; they built this country,” Schaitberger added.

The IAFF endorsement was a change of pace for the group, which did not endorse either Clinton or Trump in 2016.

Organized labor is expected to play an influential role in the 2020 Democratic nominating process, especially with several presidential hopefuls eyeing strategies to win support among the Rust Belt voters that helped Trump win the White House.

Schaitberger took a swipe at Clinton on Monday, suggesting that a failure to connect with the working class was ultimately responsible for her loss to Trump.

Things would be different with Biden as the Democratic nominee, he said.

“[Biden] connects with those workers who don’t believe the last Democratic nominee listened to them or cared about them,” Schaitberger said.