Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden swung through St. Louis on Saturday, telling hundreds of people gathered at Kiener Plaza that he’s the best candidate to take on President Donald Trump.
Biden’s visit comes as he’s seeking to gain a large share of the 68 delegates up for grabs during Tuesday’s Missouri Democratic presidential primary. He’ll have to fend off Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who came close to winning Missouri in 2016.
With the Gateway Arch at his back, Biden recounted how his campaign effectively rose from the doldrums in a week’s time thanks to big victories in states like South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The former vice president has since passed Sanders in delegates, and told the St. Louis crowd that he has what it takes to be a formidable general election candidate.
“Folks, you’re all part of a movement — a movement that has a backbone. The backbone of the Democratic Party that’s going to defeat Donald Trump,” Biden said. “For all those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind — let me say to you, this is your campaign.”
Biden refrained from directly criticizing Sanders during his Saturday speech, though he did repeat a line that he said in South Carolina about the need to nominate a “lifelong Democrat.” During his tenure in Congress, Sanders has served as an independent who caucuses with the Democratic Party.
“You know, Sen. Sanders likes to say he'll need a record turnout to defeat Donald Trump. He’s right,” Biden said. “And we’re the campaign that’s going to do that record turnout.”
Biden went on to say that he’s seeking to present a “positive progressive vision for the future and “not turn this primary into a campaign of negative attacks, because that'll only re-elect Donald Trump.”
“We're building on the coalition of the most successful president in our lifetime — Barack Obama,” Biden said. “I promise you, we're going to bring together America of every race, ethnicity, gender, economic station, Democrats, Republicans, independents of every stripe.”
Missouri could be a key test determining whether Biden’s momentum will continue. That’s because Sanders came within fewer than 2,000 votes of winning Missouri in the 2016 primary and possesses strong support from progressive activists in every corner of the state.
Sanders is slated to be in St. Louis on Monday morning at the Stifel Theatre.
Since his victory in South Carolina, dozens of the state’s Democratic elected officials have announced their support for Biden — including former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
“You know what? Trump wants to make America great again,” Reed said in a speech before Biden took the stage. “And I really truly believe he wants to make America great again. So here's what we're gonna do: We're gonna help them make America great again by sending Joe Biden to the White House.”
St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green said Biden can “build those bridges ... that we desperately need.”
“Joe Biden exemplifies good character. He is steadfast to do what is right,” Green said. “Biden is committed, and he is up for this fight.”
Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward, said he’s optimistic that Biden can not only best Trump but also be a solid top-of-ticket draw in Missouri. Hillary Clinton lost Missouri by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016, which contributed to Democrats running for statewide and legislative posts losing.
“Joe Biden’s been a tried-and-true Democrat,” Coatar said. “Everybody loves him. Even the folks that aren’t with him in this primary at least respect the guy.”
Some of the voters who attended Saturday’s rally cited electability as one of the reasons they’re getting behind Biden’s campaign.
St. Louis resident Jane Bornstein called Biden “our best chance to take back the White House.”
When asked what was at stake in November, Bornstein replied: “Oh my God, everything.”
“The environment, our children, immigrants, women’s rights — everything is at stake,” Bornstein said. “I’m very, very concerned about our country right now.”
North St. Louis County resident Michael Smith said his main focus in this election is beating Trump.
“And I believe he’ll do a good job,” Smith said of Biden. “And he’ll have some good people behind him, too.”
Illinois’ primary follows Missouri’s by one week. It will be held March 17.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com