Beto O’Rourke is youthful and has little political record to run on. Joe Biden is older and has a decades-long history, featuring both successes and mistakes. O’Rourke brings a viral energy to his campaigns, while Biden, still figuring out how to harness social media, specializes in the traditional stemwinder.
Both men are sending increasingly strong signals they will soon enter the presidential race — additions that would instantly reshape the Democratic primary debate. While left-leaning candidates have drawn the bulk of the attention so far, the popular former vice president and the charismatic former Texas congressman share one key characteristic: a more centrist brand of politics that could appeal to an untapped portion of the party electorate.
In targeting many of the same voters, O’Rourke and Biden could be on something of a collision course. They would present the party with the sharpest test yet of whether it wants an exciting but untested face or a more traditional, experienced standard-bearer to take on President Trump. And both would be trying to lay claim to the Obama legacy, with Biden touting his eight-year partnership in the White House and O’Rourke attempting to tap into the cultural and generational zeitgeist as Barack Obama did more than a decade ago.
Biden, speaking Tuesday to the International Association of Fire Fighters, was greeted with chants of “Run, Joe, run!” He told the union members he appreciated their energy and urged them to “save it a little longer — I may need it in a few weeks.” He added jokingly, “Be careful what you wish for.”
O’Rourke plans a trip to Iowa later this week, suggesting he is laying plans for that early caucus state in the aftermath of an attention-grabbing appearance at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.
The potential candidacies hardly mean the other Democrats — many of them with strong followings and campaign skills — will fade. But Biden’s long history in the party and O’Rourke’s recent challenge to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), which electrified many Democrats, mean they are likely to be major forces.
And their messages would differ notably from candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who have presented forceful liberal platforms.
They are three decades apart, but Biden, 76, and O’Rourke, 46, are Irish American white men who would be entering a field that is the most diverse in history in a party now energized by minorities and women.
The argument put forth by supporters of each of them is that they would appeal to white working-class voters who were attracted to Trump. Even before their candidacies are official, Biden and O’Rourke have been honing messages that stress optimism and unity.