Biden taps deep political network as he rises in polls

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Biden taps deep political network as he rises in polls




Joe Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden, seen here speaking in Nevada in February, “knows Nevada, and he will do very well in Nevada,” said former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

2020 elections

Long-cultivated relationships are greasing the former vice president’s entry into the 2020 race.

Updated


HENDERSON, Nev. — Joe Biden abandoned his last run for president, in 2008, before the primaries reached Nevada. And his most recent association with the state was unflattering.

It was less than six weeks ago that Biden was accused by Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman, of touching her inappropriately at a campaign event in the early-nominating state in 2014.

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But as Biden arrived in Nevada on Tuesday for the first time since announcing his campaign for president, even Flores acknowledged that her accusations have failed to fully resonate in the Silver State.

One reason is the broad network of local political connections that Biden has cultivated for decades. Those relationships — both in Nevada and elsewhere — have greased Biden’s seamless entry into the race, glossing over the flaws of his candidacy as he powers to a lead in national and state polls that has only grown since he joined the crowded field.

The elements of Biden’s front-runner status are on display in Nevada, where former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who remains a political force in the state, praised Biden publicly on the day he entered the race. Biden secured the endorsement of a key state lawmaker, state Sen. Yvanna Cancela, a former political director of the influential Culinary Workers Union. And he has built significant ties to statewide elected officials, campaigning last year on behalf of now-Sen. Jacky Rosen, now-Gov. Steve Sisolak and now-state Attorney General Aaron Ford.

“He certainly has a lot of support and infrastructure, both from his previous runs and in his capacity as vice president,” said Andres Ramirez, a Nevada-based Democratic strategist and former vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus. “So that’s definitely going to be helpful to him. … He definitely has a lot of friends.”

Like many Democrats, Ramirez views the Flores controversy as having had little political effect.

“The people who didn’t like Joe Biden are going to continually not like Joe Biden,” he said. “But I don’t think Lucy Flores persuaded anybody who was undecided or a Biden supporter to drop their support for him.”

Flores concedes as much, in part because, she said, her motives for criticizing the former vice president were unfairly questioned and in part because she has since moved out of state.

“I think that very much happened to me in Nevada,” she said.

While Biden spoke at a rally outside Las Vegas on Tuesday, a woman in the audience yelled to him, “You can hug and kiss me anytime, Joe!”

Biden paused, chuckled: “That’s very nice. Thank you.”

Speaking Tuesday in the early-voting state with the largest Latino population — 29 percent — Biden lit into President Donald Trump for rhetoric on immigration that he said Trump uses to “demonize people.”

“We’re better than that,” Biden said at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 159, in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson.

When a military veteran who emigrated from Mexico asked Biden if he would stop U.S. veterans from being deported from the United States, Biden said, “Yes.”

“Anybody who fought for the United States of America should not be in a position [of being] deported,” Biden said, causing the veteran to salute him.

Later, when another man called out “Trump is Hitler,” Biden responded, “I’m not going to stoop down to his level.”

The Democratic presidential field this year includes several Western Democrats laying claims to Nevada, which holds the first nominating contest in the West. Sen. Kamala Harris, from neighboring California, has been a presence in the state for years. But there is also former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is verging on running. And Beto O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, Texas, is about as close to Las Vegas as it is to Dallas.

Another Texas-based candidate, former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, is also a familiar presence, hoping to connect in a state where 19 percent of the 2016 caucus vote was cast by Latinos, according to entrance polls.

But Biden is far ahead of any of those Democrats in national polls, and his vice presidency elevated every appearance he made in the state during President Barack Obama’s tenure. Biden was widely viewed as an asset to Hillary Clinton when he campaigned for her in her successful run against Trump in the state in 2016.

“He knows Nevada, and he will do very well in Nevada,” Reid told reporters on the day Biden announced his candidacy.

While pledging to remain “as neutral as I can be” in the primary, Reid said Biden in Congress and as vice president “was always very good to me.”

Former Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Miller, who has endorsed Harris, saidBiden e”obviously was a great asset to Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.”

“He’s been here several times,” Miller said. “He’s well liked.”

Biden’s popularity appeared to be tested in March, when Flores, Nevada’s Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, wrote in the Cut magazine that she was at a campaign rally in the state when Biden approached her from behind and smelled her hair.

“He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head,” Flores wrote. “My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”

Biden said in a statement at the time he has “offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort.”

“And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately,” he said. “If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”

Still, the Democrat with a reputation for his close personal campaigning pledged “to be more mindful and respectful of people’s personal space.”

Flores, who has since moved to California, told POLITICO that when she wrote about her encounter with Biden, “what I wanted was for this to be taken seriously, to be discussed.” She said she believes that has happened, though she suggested her accusations were unfairly clouded by questions about her political motivations.

“I still believe that we made headway,” she said.

Biden is making strides in Nevada after his relatively late entry into the race. His campaign on Monday announced significant staff hires in the state, including state director Hilary Barrett, who was Clinton’s deputy political director in Nevada in 2016.

Cancela described the organization Biden is assembling as a “stellar crew.” And she said when he decided to run, “it was a no-brainer for me” to endorse him.

“I think people know and trust Joe Biden,” she said. “And people know and trust in his leadership and his conviction to lead the country.”

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