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Joe Biden formally enters Democratic field for 2020 presidential race

Former vice-president Joe Biden has formally joined the crowded Democratic presidential contest, betting his working-class appeal and ties to Barack Obama's presidency will help him overcome questions about his place in today's increasingly liberal party.

Biden boosted his national recognition as Obama's VP, but was a non-factor in 2 previous bids

Former vice-president Joe Biden, who on Wednesday joined the race to lead the Democratic Party, would become the oldest U.S. president in history if elected in November 2020. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Former vice-president Joe Biden has formally joined the crowded Democratic presidential contest, betting his working-class appeal and ties to Barack Obama's presidency will help him overcome questions about his place in today's increasingly liberal party.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden, 76, focused on the 2017 deadly clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va.

Biden noted U.S. President Donald Trump's comments there were some "very fine people" on both sides of the violent encounter, which left one woman dead.

"With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it," Biden said. "And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had seen in my lifetime.

"We are in the battle for the soul of this nation," Biden continued. "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."

Thursday's announcement marks the unofficial end of the chaotic early phase of the 2020 presidential season. The field now features at least 20 Democrats jockeying for the chance to take on Trump next year. Several lesser-known candidates may still join the race.

Biden, born in Scranton, Pa., but a senator for over three decades representing Delaware, has unmatched international and legislative experience, and is among the best-known faces in U.S. politics.

But the anti-establishment wave that swept Trump into office has not been kind to either party's statesmen. Biden's team worries about his fundraising ability and tendency to commit gaffes. His centrist approach in a party moving left on major policy debates raises questions about his appeal.

Four years Trump's senior, Biden would be the oldest person ever elected president should he win. Yet his allies believe the skeptics will ultimately warm to his strong connections to the Obama years.

Biden has said he would campaign as an "Obama-Biden Democrat," who is as pragmatic as he is progressive. He's aiming to be a conduit between working-class white voters and the younger, more diverse voters who backed Obama in historic numbers.

Obama hasn't explicitly endorsed Biden's bid, but the former president weighed in on Thursday's announcement through a spokesperson.

"President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made," said Katie Hill. "He relied on the vice-president's knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency. The two forged a special bond over the last 10 years and remain close today."

'Welcome to the race, Sleepy Joe'

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania each quickly endorsed Biden.

Coons, who holds Biden's old Senate seat, said in a statement: "Joe Biden doesn't just talk about making our county more just. He delivers results."

Joe Biden shakes hands with Donald Trump ahead of inauguration ceremonies swearing in Trump as the 45th president on Jan. 20, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Casey said: "At this make-or-break moment for the middle class, our children and our workers, America needs vice- president Joe Biden to be its next president."

Trump, meanwhile, was derisive in his first tweet after the Biden video was released: "Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign."

The Republican Party wasted no time seeking to undercut Biden's record, releasing a video on Wednesday questioning economic growth under Obama and Biden while resurrecting conservative arguments against Obama's health-care law and a failed investment in green energy company Solyndra.

The video ends with the words, "Joe Biden: Backwards, not forwards."

Biden is shown with Barack Obama after Obama introduced him as running mate on Aug. 23, 2008, in Springfield, Ill. (John Gress/Reuters)

Yet privately, Trump allies have warned Biden might be the biggest re-election threat given the former vice- president's potential appeal among the white working class in the Midwest, the region that gave Trump a path to the presidency.

The Republican video notably does not argue a Biden candidacy would lead to socialism, as Trump and his backers have said would happen with many in the large 2020 Democratic presidential field.

Looking to dent Trump's white working-class support

Biden is paying special attention to Pennsylvania, a state that swung to Trump in 2016 after voting for Democratic presidential candidates for decades.

Biden will hold an event in Pittsburgh on Monday and return to Philadelphia in the next two weeks for a major rally.

Biden is shown in 1988 campaigning for president along with his wife, Jill, and sons Beau, right, and Hunter, left. Beau Biden died in 2015 after a cancer battle. (Sen. Biden's office/Associated Press)

His plans were described by people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss his schedule and fundraising goals.

With a record that stretches half a century, Biden's challenges are easy to find.

Most recently, he struggled to respond to claims he touched 2014 Nevada lieutenant-governor nominee Lucy Flores's shoulders and kissed the back of her head before a fall campaign event. A handful of other women have made similar claims, though none has alleged sexual misconduct.

Biden initially said he didn't recall the Flores incident, but credited her with coming forward. He took a different approach in a subsequent statement, saying, "Never did I believe I acted inappropriately."

Edward-Isaac Dovere of the Atlantic magazine analyzes the former VP's chances and which other candidates might be most affected 8:55

Biden later pledged in an online video to be "much more mindful" of respecting personal space, but joked two days later he "had permission" to hug a male union leader before addressing the group's national conference.

The episode offered a stark reminder of Biden's proclivity to gaffes and his long record in public office, which has never felt the full glare of the spotlight that comes along with being a presidential front-runner.

His first White House bid in 1988 ended after a plagiarism scandal. He dropped out of the 2008 race after earning less than one per cent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Later that year, Obama named Biden as his running mate.

Criticized over role at Hill-Thomas hearings

In recent weeks, Biden also has been repeatedly forced to explain his 1991 decision, as Senate judiciary committee chair, to allow Anita Hill to face difficult questions from an all-male panel about allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, who later was confirmed to the high court.

Biden has since apologized for his role in the hearing. But in the #MeToo era, particularly after the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the episode remains a significant political liability.

Likewise, Biden once played a key role in anti-crime legislation that had a disproportionately negative impact on African-Americans. And while several 2020 Democratic contenders have embraced the possibility of reparations to African Americans for slavery in recent weeks, Biden last month struggled to explain comments he made as a freshman senator in 1975 about the school busing debate.

Then U.S. Vice-President Biden is shown with his wife, Jill, on Oct. 21, 2015, the day he announced he wouldn't run for president in 2016. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Biden's 2020 bid comes four years after he opted against challenging Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic contest.

In a book, he wrote about conversations with his dying son and opened up about the difficult choice to sit out the last presidential race: abandon a career-long quest for the presidency or lose precious time with a family he had held together through tragedy, from his first wife's and his daughter's deaths in a 1972 car accident to son Beau Biden's 2015 death from cancer.

"He was worried that what I'd worked on my whole life, the things that mattered to me the most since I was a kid, that I'd walk away," Biden said of his son.

Ultimately, the draw to take on Trump in 2020 was too strong.

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