President Obama is finally off the sidelines in a show of party unity for his old running mate and vice president.
Obama endorsed Joe Biden on Tuesday, reemerging as a potentially powerful voice for the Democratic Party after staying publicly neutral during the crowded primary.
“Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery,” Obama said in a 12-minute video announcing his endorsement. “And I know he’ll surround himself with good people – experts, scientists, military officials who actually know how to run the government and care about doing a good job running the government, and know how to work with our allies, and who will always put the American people’s interests above their own.”
The move isn’t exactly a shock — Obama and Biden are close friends and political allies. But it gives Biden his latest boost since he locked up the Democratic nomination last week. And with Biden now the presumptive nominee (and Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsing him on Monday), the Democratic Party’s most popular figure can now be a powerful surrogate for his old buddy and running mate.
Obama’s endorsement comes after he assiduously tried to stay out of the Democratic primary, wary of appearing to put a finger on the scale for anyone. That could have infuriated other candidates’ supporters — and created an even deeper rift between Sanders’ most hardcore backers and the party that could have been difficult to repair in the general election.
But Obama didn’t exactly stay fully above the fray, either. In November 2019, as it looked like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren had strong shots at the Democratic nomination, Obama warned against nominating someone too far to the left who could help reelect Donald Trump.
“Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality,” Obama told a group of donors at a November event in D.C. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”
And while he never came out to support Biden, Obama privately talked to other candidates who’d dropped out of the race, including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg around the time they exited the presidential race — and shortly before they endorsed Biden, helping give him a huge surge ahead of Super Tuesday that turned him from underdog into the heavy front-runner in the race.
Obama’s popularity was obvious in the primary. Everyone from Sanders to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg showcased the former president in their ads, looking to paint themselves as a worthy successor. Bloomberg’s ads went so far that some voters believed he’d actually earned Obama’s endorsement.
Obama nodded to the crowded field in his Biden endorsement — and specifically singled out Sanders, calling him “a man who has devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams, and frustrations.”.
It’s unclear how active Obama will be on the campaign trail for Biden. The former president has been keen to avoid the spotlight since he left the White House — but he loathes President Trump as much as most Democrats, and may be more willing to help his old buddy defeat his nemesis than he would have been for another candidate.
He ended his remarks with a promise to be out on the campaign trail for Biden “as soon as I can.”
Cover: Former President Barack Obama talks during a panel with NBA players Chris Paul, Kevin Love and Giannis Antetokounmpo and sports analyst Michael Wilbon in Chicago on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)