WASHINGTON – Joe Biden is set to announce his entry into the 2020 presidential campaign on Thursday and follow up with his first campaign rally next week in Pittsburgh, according to two people familiar with his plans, a clear message that he intends to lay a claim to the working-class voters who helped elect President Donald Trump in 2016.
The former vice president's announcement via a video will end weeks of speculation and false starts and put him in the crowded Democratic nomination race as the early front-runner. He plans to focus on his economic message and his strong ties to labor unions, according to one of the people.
His kick-off rally is tentatively planned to take place in front of a union crowd in the onetime center of the U.S. steel industry, Pittsburgh, according to the people, who asked for anonymity because the plans haven't been made public. He'll follow with trips to the four states where the first nomination contests will be held starting in February 2020.
The former six-term Delaware senator leads in many early-state and national polls of primary voters, though his edge in many surveys — driven largely by his nearly universal name recognition — has diminished. The other leading candidate is Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Biden has been fashioning himself as a middle-of-the-road alternative to the progressive senator from Vermont.
He's spent the first quarter of the year weighing his final decision on his third White House bid as the other would-be Democratic nominees have already begun campaigning and raising money.
Biden's allies argue he can appeal to working-class white voters in the Rust Belt in a way many of the other Democratic candidates won't, making up for a weakness that cost Hillary Clinton the Electoral College vote in 2016.
Though his two previous tries for the Democratic nomination in 1988 and 2008 ended quickly, Biden will be able to draw on the good will generated by serving as vice president to Barack Obama, who remains very popular among Democrats.
But he also would have plenty of liabilities, including his age — at 76 he is four years older than Trump — and a sense from some that he's out of touch with the Democratic electorate, especially younger voters. During his Senate career, Biden has compiled a record of stances that are unpopular with many of the party's core voters.