Joe Biden began his third presidential campaign this week in Pittsburgh.
On Monday, the former Vice President and long-time fixture of the United States Senate held his first official campaign event as a 2020 Presidential candidate at the Teamsters Local 249 in Lawrenceville.
“Let me tell you why I choose Pittsburgh to begin this effort,” said Biden. “Quite frankly folks, If I’m going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it’s going to happen here.”
At the event, Biden discussed his plans for job creation and laid out other key economic agenda points for his days-old campaign to a crowd of about 400. The candidate endorsed calls for a $15 an hour minimum wage, and also signaled strong support for expanding the rights of organized labor.
“The American middle class was built by unions,” he said.
Digging into local politics, Biden called out UPMC for their efforts to block their workers from organizing. Addressing UPMC, he said, “Stop the union busting!”
While addressing the healthcare giant’s workers, he said, “I am with you, I have your back and if I’m President I will fight like the devil to make sure you are not blocked unfairly.”
Biden served six terms representing Delaware in the U.S. Senate, but his childhood in Scranton, Pa., has always been a central part of his personal and political narrative. Given that Pennsylvania’s switch from blue to red in the 2016 election shocked many political observers, Biden is making his appeal to Midwestern voters a key pillar of his campaign.
While many of those in the crowd were already firmly in the Biden camp, some undecided voters also made the trip, like Christine Norton, a 67-year-old retired immigration asylum officer.
“I like Joe Biden a lot. I don’t know because he is quite older,” says Norton, whose family has owned the same home on Rosetta Street in Garfield for 62 years. “At this at my point in life, I would prefer a woman or a more progressive agenda.”
Biden’s team likely choose the location for its symbolic value as a gathering point for old labor politics. President Trump’s success with union voters was a key to his win in 2016, but Biden has long had the support of America’s unions. He received an endorsement from the Pittsburgh-based International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 1 just prior to his arrival in Pittsburgh today, a nod that drew immediate attention from the President.
“I’ll never get the support of Dues Crazy union leadership,” Trump tweeted in response.
“Joe Biden is a great friend to the firefighters,” says Doug Stern, director of media relations for the association, citing Biden’s sponsorship of legislation that protected overtime and public safety benefits for firefighters. “Certainly other candidates were considered, but it was an easy decision for our board.”
But the Lawrenceville venue also highlights one of the issues that will likely define the coming Democratic nominating contest: The struggle between centrist Democrats and those leaning further left.
Though the Teamsters Hall is technically in the district of Representative Adam Ravenstahl, Biden’s speech took place less than half a mile away from the district offices of State Representative Sara Innamorato, a self-described Democratic Socialist who ran a successful insurgent campaign for the state house in 2018.
Biden’s appeal among a Democratic Party that has grown increasingly young, diverse and progressive remains an open question. Biden, currently 76 years old, will be just a few weeks shy of turning 78 when Election Day arrives in 2020.
Representative Innamorato declined to comment on Monday on Biden’s candidacy or his choice of Lawrenceville to kick off his campaign.