Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS
Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — Former US vice-president Joe Biden dropped teasing hints on Tuesday that he could soon announce a 2020 White House campaign, telling an enthusiastic crowd that he may need their energy “in a few weeks”.

The Democratic elder statesman has been mulling a challenge against President Donald Trump for months.

While he tops nearly all early polls for the Democratic nominations race, strategists and election observers have stressed he is under pressure to enter the crowded field soon, or bow out.

Much about Biden’s address to the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington suggested he is in: attendees waving “Run Joe Run” placards; recollections from his blue-collar roots; criticism of the current president without naming him; and soaring oratory about the US’s leadership role in the world.

“I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here,” the 76-year-old told the firefighters after several chanted “Run Joe, run!”.

“Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks,” he said.

When the room rose in unison for a standing ovation, Biden grinned. “Be careful what you wish for.”

Biden would be an instant frontrunner should he enter the race. He would occupy the centrist lane in a field of Democrats whose party has steadily shifted leftwards since Trump’s presidency began.

He has another opportunity to reveal his plans later this week, when he addresses a Democratic party dinner on Saturday in Delaware, the small state he represented for 36 years in the US Senate until his stint as Barack Obama’s deputy.

Biden took aim at the current administration’s policies, including the Republican “tax cut for the super wealthy” and Trump’s new budget requests that would slash billions of dollars from national safety net programmes.

He also hit out at the tone of the Trump era, saying extremism is on the rise and “mean pettiness has overtaken our politics”.

But he insisted that the “creed” that makes the US great is the understanding that everyone gets a shot.

“That’s what the next president of the US needs to understand, and that’s what I don’t think this current president understands at all,” he said.

Biden also movingly recalled the tragic death of his first wife and their daughter in a pre-Christmas car accident in 1972 just weeks before he was to be sworn in as a senator, and praised the work of firefighters who he said saved his two sons who were severely injured in the crash.

AFP