Yet once the conventional wisdom about presidential politics has set in, it’s hard to break. “Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden to Be President?” the feminist writer Jill Filipovic asked in a New York Times op-ed published ahead of Biden’s rally, pointedly asking a question that has been circulating among political insiders. It’s early days yet in the Democratic primary, but Biden’s campaign is discussed in some circles as a self-fulfilling prophecy: that he will win the Democratic nomination simply because he appears the likeliest to win the nomination, that he will beat Trump simply because everyone is talking about how electable he is—not because voters are actually excited about him or the specifics of what he’s running on.
But the voters I spoke with at the rally told me they’d support Biden even if they weren’t confident he’d win. “I’ve seen what he does in the office, and I want more of that,” said Jackie Jozefisk, a 20-year-old student who’d traveled from Boston to attend the rally, and who was standing in line for the official campaign-gear table, which was full of tote bags and T-shirts (including a $35 special-edition T-shirt with the Liberty Bell worked into the campaign’s logo).
Adam Forgie, a 41-year-old seventh- and eighth-grade history teacher from Pittsburgh who was in town for a conference, told me Biden is his candidate, in part, because he has always been for unions and public education. “I’d be foolish not to stand up for my whole way of life,” Forgis said, noting that his wife is a teacher too.
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“He’s got a history behind him,” said Tom Brown, a 70-year-old retired telephone-company splicer, though he said he worries about Biden’s age. Tracy Beaty, a 55-year-old post-office employee, told me she thinks any Democrat could beat Trump, but she’s drawn to how Biden has been talking about unity. Her friend James Gaston, a 72-year-old HVAC instructor, told me his support for Biden is all about gut instinct: “I think I know a winner when I see one.”
During his remarks on Saturday, Biden took some digs at Trump, which drew some of the more enthusiastic responses from the crowd. In a bit calling on his work with Obama and the economic recovery after the 2008 collapse, he said the current president “inherited an economy that was given to him by the Obama-Biden administration—just like he inherited everything else in his life. And he’s in the process of squandering that, too.”
Overall, though, Biden’s message was a call for unity. “The only thing that can tear America apart is America itself, and we can’t let that happen,” Biden said, repurposing a line from his first campaign event, in Pittsburgh, two weeks ago. His wife, Jill Biden, wore a jacket with the word LOVE bedazzled in gold on the back—a fashion statement that contrasted with the jacket Melania Trump famously wore last June, as she went to visit immigrant children at the border, which was emblazoned with the words I Don’t Really Care, Do U? on the back.