LYNDHURST, N.J. — Former Vice President Joe Biden blessed the campaign of New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy on Sunday, describing the upcoming election to succeed outgoing Gov. Chris Christie as the “single most important” of the next three years — even eclipsing the 2018 midterms.
In what was largely a repudiation of President Donald Trump, Biden said Democrats haven’t done enough to acknowledge the problems faced by many in middle-class America and said he viewed Murphy — a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as U.S. ambassador to Germany during the Obama administration — as the man to do so.
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“There are a lot of people out there who are frightened. Trump played on their fears,” Biden told a crowd of some 1,200 Murphy supporters packed into a community center gymnasium. “What we haven’t done, in my view — and this is a criticism of all us — we haven’t spoken enough to the fears and aspirations of the people we come from.”
He said his father used to tell him, “I don’t expect the government to solve my problem, but I damn well expect them to understand my problem.”
Biden opened his remarks by saying he flew to Germany five years ago to encourage Murphy, then the ambassador there, to return home and run for elected office. He did so, Biden said, at the urging of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.
“I went because I thought, and Frank insisted, that this guy had all the stuff — not only to be our ambassador, but to be a great political leader for us,” Biden said. “I went then to try to get him to jump into a race earlier on.”
Murphy, who has also served as a finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, decided against running at the time for what presumably would have been a tough race to unseat Christie.
Five years later, Murphy is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and is widely expected to become the leading candidate in the general election this fall.
But the race has received little attention so far — even within the state. Biden’s Sunday event gave a last-minute boost to Murphy ahead of the June 6 primary, as the former vice president said Murphy should offer hope to Democrats across the country, and told national observers it would be a mistake to ignore the New Jersey race.
“The whole country and, without exaggeration, the world is going to be looking,” Biden told crowd. “They’re going to look to decide whether or not America has bought into this crass and mean spirited and negative and uncomfortable rhetoric that we have been subjected to these last 10 months — or whether [we are] ready to reestablish and assert who were are.”
Murphy, who was among the top executives at Goldman, has used his personal fortune to fund most of his campaign — $15.1 million out of the $19.2 million he had raised as of May 5. The three other major Democratic candidates — former treasurer official Jim Johnson, state Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblyman John Wisniewski — are relying on matching funds.
Murphy also holds another advantage that has given him an air of inevitability: He has been endorsed by the local party organizations in all 21 counties, a distinction that earns him a spot on their ballot lines. A Stockton University polled released last week showed Murphy with 34 percent support, trailed by Johnson’s 10 percent and Wisniewski’s 9 percent.
When he took the stage with Biden, Murphy said he would fight Trump’s policies and laid out some of his own platform, including funding for Planned Parenthood, boosting clean energy and create gun regulations.
“All the while while we’re fighting to undo the damage that Governor Christie has done, we’re going to have to deal with a hostile administration coming out of Washington,” Murphy said. “We’re going to need a governor — and I will be that governor — with a steel backbone who says, ‘Mr. President, Mr. Trump, not in New Jersey will you do that.’”
Biden said he saw similarity between his own working-class roots and Murphy’s, and said he sees from Murphy the sort of message he’s been working to get across himself: That America hasn’t fallen behind other nations and that, with the right leadership, its collective achievements can be endless.
“Remember this one thing: The United States, in the year 2017, is better positioned than any nation in the world for the 21st century,” Biden said. “I give you my word, I am more optimistic about America’s prospects than I have ever been in my life.”
The two left the stage to Bon Jovi’s “We Weren’t Born to Follow.”