WATCH LIVE: Joe Biden visits Columbia for first SC campaign stop –

WATCH LIVE: Joe Biden visits Columbia for first SC campaign stop -

Biden says Trump, GOP, are letting Jim Crow make comeback

Former Vice President Joe Biden takes photos with supporters following the first rally of his 2020 campaign, Saturday,. in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Former Vice President Joe Biden charged Saturday that Jim Crow is "sneaking back in" as he emphasized voting rights at his first presidential campaign stop in South Carolina, where black voters play a key role in the South's first presidential primary.

In criticizing Republican efforts to adopt more stringent voting rules, including identification requirements and curtailing early voting hours, Biden recalled the racial segregation laws of the past.

"You've got Jim Crow sneaking back in," he said, referring to the era before the civil rights movement. "You know what happens when you have an equal right to vote? They lose."

Biden centered much of his trip around the need to restore decency to the White House. "Your state motto is, 'While I breathe, I hope,'" he said at the rally after continuing his full-throated denunciation of President Donald Trump. "It's not a joke. We're breathing, but God, we have got to have hope."

He kept up that theme at a private evening fundraiser, telling several dozen donors that he expects a nasty race from Trump.

"This guy is going to go after me and family," Biden said, recalling his grandchildren telling him before his announcement that they expect Trump and others to bring up family details including his son Hunter Biden's divorce.

Biden said there "are so many nicknames I want to give this guy," and he drew laughter when he joked that he'd "start with clown." But he added that he doesn't want to respond in kind.

"The only place he has any confidence is in the mud," Biden said, because the president "doesn't understand how to respond to issues."

Biden said he will answer Trump "directly" in the future without name-calling. He recalled saying in 2016 that in high school he'd have "taken him behind the barn and beat the hell out of" Trump. "Guess what? I probably shouldn't have done that," Biden said. "The presidency is an office that requires dignity and reestablishing respect and standing."

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina residents gave former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. a front-runners welcome Saturday afternoon, when his recently announced presidential campaign made its first stop in the early primary state that will play a critical role in determining the Democratic presidential nominee.

We want Joe! the crowd chanted, before Mr. Biden took the stage at a small community center gymnasium. He presented his campaign as the natural heir to the legacy of Barack Obama, who selected Mr. Biden to be his running mate more than a decade ago.

I think you all get it better than anybody that this election is different than any presidential election in our lifetime, Mr. Biden said. Literally our democracy is at stake right now.

Youre going to be seeing a lot of me, Mr. Biden told the crowd of 700. Folks, above all else, we must defeat Donald Trump.

The speech indicated how Mr. Biden will seek to bring his working-class Joe brand to a more diverse Democratic electorate, which is attempting to balance a pragmatic desire to beat President Trump with a strong tide of progressive energy animating the primary campaign. In the crowded Democratic field in which candidates are searching for ways to distinguish themselves, Mr. Biden is focusing on Mr. Trump, casting him as an outlier president in need of an emergency course correction.

Black voters play an outsize role in the Democratic electorate in South Carolina, and Mr. Bidens high favorability ratings among that demographic are partly why he is considered the primarys early front-runner. The Saturday rally, with a roughly 60 percent white crowd, opened with a performance from a local youth gospel choir and marching band. In his speech, Mr. Biden repeatedly emphasized his eight-year tenure as vice president to Mr. Obama, the countrys first black president.

My buddy, Mr. Biden said at another, before stopping himself. My buddy? I shouldnt be so casual. The president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Mr. Biden has forged deep relationships in the South throughout his decades-long political career and arrived at the Hyatt Park gymnasium to whoops and cheers, a testament to how much good will remains even after he delayed his presidential announcement for months. Mr. Biden and his wife, Jill, are set to attend a private fund-raiser in Columbia on Saturday evening, and a church service in West Columbia on Sunday morning.

Missing from his speech were two high-profile elements in Mr. Bidens career that are sure to follow him throughout the campaign and that could complicate his cozy relationship with black voters. This year Mr. Biden expressed regret for the crime and criminal justice legislation he championed in the early 1990s, saying it resulted in unequal sentencing and burdened black communities. Mr. Biden has also faced scrutiny for his handling of the 1991 confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill.

Several people interviewed in the enthusiastic crowd dismissed both incidents as unimportant for their continued support. The repeated response: No matter what, Mr. Biden is better than Mr. Trump.

The stakes are so high, said Terry Davenport, 57, from Columbia. Joe has a track record. And the track record comes with good and bad. But I think the good outweighs the bad.

Kenneth Webb, 73, said, Everyone makes mistakes, but Im backing him because we need someone who can go toe-to-toe with Trump.

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