Biden repeated similar arguments in a fundraising email and at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, escalating tensions between the two top-polling contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. He did not mention his rival by name, but the message was unmistakably aimed at Warren, whose Republican critics have for years sought to paint her as an out-of-touch liberal who worked as a Harvard professor.
Warren’s campaign has emphasized that she grew up in Oklahoma “on the ragged edge of the middle class.” Her campaign declined to comment on Biden’s remarks.
Biden and Warren have clashed repeatedly over health care, especially as Warren has overtaken Biden in some early-state polls. Warren supports “Medicare for All,” an expansive government-run health insurance system that would all but eliminate private health insurance, while Biden wants to add a “public option” to build on the Affordable Care Act but still allow people to choose private insurance.
Last week, after Biden’s campaign criticized Warren’s proposal to pay for Medicare for All, she suggested that Biden was “running in the wrong presidential primary” and “repeating Republican talking points.”
“These kinds of attacks are a serious problem,” Biden wrote. “They reflect an angry unyielding viewpoint that has crept into our politics. If someone doesn’t agree with you — it’s not just that you disagree — that person must be a coward or corrupt or a small thinker.”
Some of Warren’s other opponents, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, have also been critical of Warren’s health care proposal, and of her approach to promoting it.
And in several venues Tuesday, Biden repeatedly seized on the fact that Warren was once a registered Republican, though she is now a leading progressive contender for the Democratic nomination and Biden is perceived by many on the left as too moderate and overly focused on striking deals with Republicans.
“I have fought for the Democratic Party my whole career,” Biden wrote. “I know what we stand for, who we stand with and what we believe. And it’s not just policies or issues. It’s in my bones. That’s not something everyone in this primary can say.”
He was more explicit at the fundraiser: “I’ve been a Democrat my whole life. This person has only fairly recently in the mid-’90s become a Democrat.”
Biden and his team often bristle at the suggestion that he is insufficiently progressive for this moment in the Democratic Party, and Biden on Tuesday sought to defend his liberal credentials on issues like health care and taxes.
But his use of personal criticisms to confront Warren, the only woman polling in the top tier of Democratic contenders, carries risk. Attacks on character, including on Biden’s, have often failed to land or have backfired in the primary process so far.
Biden cast his remarks as self-defense.
“Since some have questioned whether I’m running in the wrong primary — let me answer that question,” he continued. “I’m running in the Democratic primary as a proud Democrat.”
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