Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed a crowd of rapt North Dakota Democrats at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Saturday, urging them to vote in this November’s U.S. Senate race. In a long speech, he remembered less corrosive political times and gave his audience a whiff of fire-and-brimstone populism.
“My dad, we heard him say it once, we heard him say it a thousand times. … He’d say, be a man of your word,” Biden said. “Without your word, you’re not a man.”
It was to those simple values that Biden returned again and again during his address, urging honesty, character and political courage to hundreds of delegates and scores more gathered to hear him at the state Democratic-NPL convention. He spoke of tragedy in his own family -- the death of his wife and daughter -- and how he came to understand the point of view of a Republican colleague he initially disliked.
Biden strongly endorsed Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., in her re-election bid this fall, which promises a hard-fought and closely watched race with implications for control of the Senate. His constant return to core values, bipartisanship and the “idea” of America were reminiscent of the moderate image many Democrats in deep-red North Dakota, including Heitkamp, have crafted for themselves.
“Too many people … run for office and forget that people reward the exercise of courage -- even when they might not agree with exactly what you’re doing -- if you know you’re doing it based on principle,” Biden said. “People reward people who do what they say they’re going to do.”
Biden later turned to the current state of politics. He criticized President Donald Trump, though not by name, for degrading American values. He questioned “how someone in the highest office in America can look at someone and make fun of ... a disability, or make fun of their weight or make fun of how they look.”
Biden’s address came shortly after a private luncheon, also held at the Alerus Center, where he addressed hundreds of gathered guests. Those present said he urged support for Heitkamp and worried for the present administration’s effects on the economy.
“He was talking about the word ‘entitlement,’ and how much he hates the word ‘entitlement,’ ” said Brandon Medenwald, a candidate running for the Legislature in District 41. “Middle-class Americans … they’ve paid for those benefits throughout their entire life. That’s something I’ll take with me and think about on the drive home tomorrow and throughout the rest of my campaign, because it’s such a message we need to be carrying along.”
Before he closed, Biden reminded Democrats what they’re fighting for, his voice often rising and the crowd matching his enthusiasm. He railed against the Republican tax overhaul as a bad decision for the country’s bottom line, and he warned against further GOP plans that endanger Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. He riffed on the America’s strengths -- from its military might to its agricultural sector -- and urged voters to support Heitkamp.
“It’s time for us to get up as a party,” he said. “I think it’s time to say, we don’t have to choose between our heart and our soul.”