HOUSTON – The Biden campaign previewed its debate strategy for Thursday night by making clear at least two things clear: The onetime vice president will reject efforts to cast him as an incremental moderate. And he’ll call on his rivals to do more than just wave around an arsenal of policy proposals.
“The vice president will argue we need more than just plans — we need action. We need progress,” a senior Biden campaign official said Thursday. “This race is not just about plans, it’s about getting things done for people.”
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The comments came during a briefing with reporters on the sidelines of the debate in Houston, and they amounted to an implicit swipe at surging Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is best known for her reams of plans. The Massachusetts senator published yet another of those plans on Thursday morning, focused on Social Security.
The dynamic between the two rivals could be the main attraction, as this is the first time Warren has been on the same stage with Biden in this Democratic primary cycle. With the criteria tightened for this, the third debate matchup among the Dem candidates, only the 10 top-polling contenders will appear, as opposed to the field being split in half for two consecutive nights of debates.
The debate is a clear opportunity for Warren to build on the momentum her campaign has experienced in recent weeks. But Biden, grappling with sustained critical media coverage over a string of verbal flubs and a narrative from his left flank that he’s not progressive enough, is determined to convince voters there’s more to his candidacy than just the “electability” factor.
According to the campaign, he’ll talk about the “meaningful change” he helped pursue while vice president under Barack Obama, and his plans to build on that success.
“He’ll talk about his substantive record,” the official said, touting his victories against the National Rifle Association (NRA) and support for the Violence Against Women Act.
“Joe Biden has been at the forefront of progressive change,” the official said.
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The campaign also said Biden will “reject the premise that the ideas he is putting forward are incremental.”
“We believe there is a false dichotomy in this race between candidates who are supposedly the liberal revolutionaries and those who are for incremental change,” another official said.
As for his strategy for the debate stage, the campaign made clear that Biden “is not in this race to attack other Democrats.”
“He’s been very clear about that,” one official said. “Our hope and aim is that this will be a substantive policy discussion.”
The official added, though, that Biden “has not shied away from drawing a contrast between his health care plan and Medicare-for-all — specifically the cost, in another apparent swipe at Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
“He’s not in the race to attack other Democrats but he is not going to shy away from having a meaningful conversation,” the official said.
Despite being the consistent frontrunner in the crowded Democratic primary field, Biden has grappled with critical media coverage and general frustration with his candidacy from the left. His campaign appearances have also been marred by some verbal slips in recent weeks, while some top Democrats have questioned his handling of his own record.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod recently accused him of distorting his record on the Iraq War.
Biden famously weathered a rhetorical broadside from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., during the first primary debate, in connection with his past stance on desegregation busing.