Virginia U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat, has known former Vice President Joe Biden for close to four decades and has seen the highs and lows of his political career, including his two unsuccessful presidential campaigns.
Connolly said Biden’s 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years as vice president under President Barack Obama put him in a unique position among the 20 candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Biden formally entered the race on Thursday.
“Ultimately, Joe is going to have to show that he’s got the stamina, and he’s got the smarts to run a professional campaign and to prevail,” Connolly said. “Those are things he’s been tested at twice before, and was not able to accomplish … This time will have to be different.”
Connolly worked for Biden as a congressional staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during the 1980s. That was when Biden first made it clear he had his sights on the White House.
Biden ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988 and 2008. As his first presidential campaign was getting underway in 1987, it took a major hit when it was learned a speech he gave was plagiarized from a British politician.
In his second run for the White House, he was criticized for saying that Barack Obama was “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Connolly said Biden, 76, will need to be more disciplined than he was in his previous campaigns and stay on message. Biden himself has said he’s been prone to make political gaffes.
“He’s going to have to show from day one, that has been turned around. And that in fact, he has personal and professional discipline, and organizational discipline, to win primaries and caucuses throughout the country,” Connolly said. “I believe that he is capable of that, but he’s going to be tested.”
The field of Democratic candidates is large and varied. Connolly believes that helps Biden.
“I think that’s an advantage for him because of name recognition and stature,” Connolly said. That’s something many of the other candidates don’t have.
Biden is known as a tireless campaigner, who enjoys mixing it up with people during his public appearances. But recent allegations from women who felt Biden got too close to them mean that Biden will have to campaign differently, Connolly said. “The country has changed and our politics have changed with it.”