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Biden's challenge to unite US

Democrat aiming to build broad voting coalition to take on Trump

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Diverse base: Supporters of Joe Biden at a rally in March. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty

Diverse base: Supporters of Joe Biden at a rally in March. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty

AFP via Getty Images

Diverse base: Supporters of Joe Biden at a rally in March. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty

Democratic candidate Joe Biden's overtures to Republicans were central to his promise to "unify the country" and "restore the soul of the nation" when he launched his presidential campaign.

But all has changed now he is the man most likely to be taking on Donald Trump. Although still pitching consensus, he is touting a "bold agenda" aimed at mollifying progressives who remain sceptical he will deliver enough on health, student debts and the climate crisis.

The idea is to avoid repeating the 2016 defeat, when Hillary Clinton struggled to unite moderate supporters and backers of Bernie Sanders.

The dynamics are different in 2020, with Democrats united in their antipathy towards Mr Trump. But Mr Biden's juggling of the left wing along with mainstream Democrats and independents and Republicans disgruntled with Mr Trump could end up as an unsuccessful attempt to be all things to all people.

"It certainly seems like the approach that they're taking right now is trying to have it both ways," said Evan Weber, a co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a climate action youth organisation working with the Biden campaign.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres countered that Mr Biden's "sweet spot" is the centre-left.

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‘Bold agenda’: Joe Biden aims to juggle the left wing and mainstream Democrats as well as the disgruntled Republicans and the independents

‘Bold agenda’: Joe Biden aims to juggle the left wing and mainstream Democrats as well as the disgruntled Republicans and the independents

REUTERS

‘Bold agenda’: Joe Biden aims to juggle the left wing and mainstream Democrats as well as the disgruntled Republicans and the independents

"You've got to run on who you are," Mr Ayres said. "If he becomes a politician of the left, it's going to hurt his ability to consolidate the 54pc of Americans who voted for someone other than Donald Trump in 2016."

Asked whether his recent moves mean he'll govern as a "progressive", Mr Biden said: "I'm going to be Joe Biden. Look at my record."

Interviews reveal the nuances Mr Biden hopes can attract support in both directions. "I think health care is a right, not a privilege," he said on CNBC. But, he added, "I do not support Medicare for All" single-payer insurance.

Mr Biden embraces some key principles of the Green New Deal sweeping climate plan as paths to "tens of millions of new jobs" but casts as impossible some progressives' goal of zeroing out carbon pollution over a decade.

He has reaffirmed he wants Republicans' 2017 tax cuts repealed for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. But he prefers a 28pc corporate tax rate - still lower than before the cuts - and he has not embraced a "wealth tax" on the fortunes of the richest Americans.

He opposes the Keystone XL pipeline while stopping short of backing an outright ban on fracking.

The coronavirus pandemic has influenced Mr Biden's thinking as well.

Once a senator who championed a balanced budget amendment, he's aligned with congressional Democrats pushing trillions of dollars in aid for states, local governments, business and individuals.

He has also intensified his calls to rebuild the economy to reflect progressive values, including stamping out income inequalities baked into the pre-pandemic system.

Aides say he is uniquely positioned for a wide coalition because voters prioritise experience and temperament, along with policy.

Campaign co-chairman Cedric Richmond said Mr Biden can stitch together otherwise irreconcilable parts of the electorate for one reason: Donald Trump.

"We have a president now with no discernible political philosophy other than what benefits him," said Mr Richmond, a congressman. "Even people who are not as progressive (as Biden) and people who are more progressive at least like the consistency of knowing what a person believes in."

Anti-Trump conservatives offer similar sentiments. "We are living right now... with the damage that can be done when a president is elected and thinks that he only has to answer to his base," said Jennifer Horn of the Lincoln Project, which has produced online ads to help thwart Mr Trump's re-election.

Irish Independent