In Tight Missouri Primary Race, Joe Biden Tells Kansas City Voters He Can Unite America
Former Vice President Joe Biden emphasized a message of unity and national healing in front of a crowd of thousands at the National World War I Museum and Memorial Saturday.
“This election isn't about a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. It's a battle for the soul of America,” Biden said. “Winning means uniting America, not showing more division.”
Missouri’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday, March 10, is expected to be competitive. An Emerson College poll released Thursday of likely voters showed Biden with a slim lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, which was within the poll’s margin of error.
Biden heads into Missouri’s primary contest with an overall delegate lead after a series of victories on Super Tuesday, which followed a decisive win in the South Carolina primary last month.
Biden’s roughly 15-minute speech Saturday focused on his campaign’s momentum and calls to “heal our divisions.” He also said he wanted to invest more in finding a cure for cancer, have the United States re-enter the Paris climate agreement and fund two-years of free community college.
The rally was briefly interrupted by protesters who called on Biden to support a Homes Guarantee, which includes a proposal to have Congress fund 12 million new housing units over ten years with the goal of providing homes to people who are homeless or who pay more than half of their income to rent.
Biden offered to meet with the protestors after his speech.
Tiana Caldwell, one of the protestors and a local activist with the group KC Tenants, said she wanted Biden to explain his housing plan to the crowd. Caldwell, who said she supports Bernie Sanders, said housing should be a human right.
Biden was joined on stage by former Missouri Governor Bob Holden and Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who endorsed the former Vice President in September.
“We need somebody who will give us a reassurance, reconstruction, responsibility, respectability redirection,” Cleaver told the crowd.
Biden’s message of unity appealed to voters like Bradley Petzold. He said he thinks Biden has the best chance to defeat President Donald Trump.
“We’re looking for a message of hope and of healing, bringing people back together,” Petzold said.
Diane Boldt echoed that sentiment. She said she originally supported Elizabeth Warren.
“When she withdrew from the race, I had to look at the other options and see who came closest to me ideologically and also who I thought had the best shot in defeating Trump,” Boldt said.
She said she is also considering supporting Sanders but wanted him to provide more specifics on how he would get Congress to approve his Medicare for All plan.
Some voters, like Maurice Kratz, said they are still on the fence. Kratz came to the rally to hear Biden’s message directly. Kratz said he likes that Sanders's policies are more progressive.
“But I feel like that could be off-putting for some people,” Kratz said. “So that's kind of, I don't know… it's like the whole thing that you're just trying to figure out. I want what's best for everyone and not just myself.”
Sanders canceled a scheduled rally in Kansas City originally set for Monday and will, instead, make a campaign stop that day in St. Louis. Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, will host a get-out-the-vote event Monday in Kansas City.
Five other states will hold primary votes March 10, with the largest number of delegates up for grabs in Michigan and Washington.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson