With Biden absent, rivals pounce at Calif. gathering


Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO

Democratic presidential hopefuls took rival Joe Biden’s absence at a California state party gathering Saturday as a chance to take subtle digs at the former vice president and craft themselves as better positioned to bring Democrats into the future.

“Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a clear reference to Biden’s comments that the GOP may have an “epiphany” after President Donald Trump is gone. “But our country is in a crisis. The time for small ideas is over.”

Warren was one of 14 presidential contenders in San Francisco for a three-day gathering of the California Democratic Party, featuring thousands of fervent activists. Biden was the only big-name candidate to skip the gathering, opting instead to campaign in Ohio. That allowed Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and others a chance to grab the spotlight.

California has shifted its 2020 primary earlier on the calendar, to March 3, part of the Super Tuesday collection of contests, in hopes of giving the state more sway in choosing the party’s nominee. California will offer the largest delegate haul, but it is a notoriously difficult state to campaign in, given its massive size and expensive media markets.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has endorsed Harris, downplayed the importance of Biden’s absence.

“Joe Biden’s very familiar to Californians. He spent a great deal of time in California,” Newsom said, a remark that highlighted Biden’s advantage when it comes to name recognition.

Warren’s remarks served as the most direct jab at Biden, but 37-year-old South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg seemed to draw a contrast with the 76-year-old Biden when he said Democrats won’t win if they bring more of the same to the 2020 contest.

“The riskiest thing we can do is play it safe,” Buttigieg declared. “There’s no going back to normal.”

Biden’s backers have argued he’s the party’s best and safest choice to defeat Trump.

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Californian who remains at the bottom of the pack, also referenced Biden as he said “we don’t need a crime bill – we need a hope bill.” Biden has taken heat from some rivals for his support of a crime bill in the early 1990s that critics say spurred mass incarceration.

One of those rivals is Harris, though she made no direct or indirect references to Biden during her Saturday morning speech, instead highlighting her policy plans and bringing the crowd to its feet with calls to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro says he’s hoping his campaign for president will prove Latinos aren’t scared by President Donald Trump’s racism.

Castro is the only Latino in the broad 2020 Democratic presidential field. In response to a question at an activist forum in San Francisco, Castro said Trump has exhibited “racism” toward Latinos. And, he says, “that’s one of the reasons I’ve determined in this campaign that we’re just going to be fearless.”

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