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WASHINGTON: Former US vice president Joe Biden, a moderate who has made his appeal to working-class voters that deserted the Democrats in 2016 a key part of his political identity, launched a bid for the White House on Thursday as the party’s instant frontrunner.

Biden announced the third presidential bid of his career by video on YouTube and other social media.

Biden, 76, had been wrestling for months over whether to run. His candidacy will face numerous questions, including whether he is too old and too centrist for a Democratic Party yearning for fresh faces and increasingly propelled by its more vocal liberal wing.

Still, he starts as the leader of the pack in opinion polls of a Democratic field that now will total 20 contenders see­king the chance to challenge Pres­ident Donald Trump, the likely Repub­lican nominee, in November 2020.

Critics say his standing in polls is largely a function of name recognition for the former US senator from Delaware, whose more than four decades in public service includes eight years as President Barack Obama’s No 2 in the White House.

As speculation about his bid mounted, Biden faced new questions about his longtime propensity for touching and kissing strangers at political events, with several women coming forward to say he had made them feel uncomfortable.

Biden struggled in his response to the concerns, at times joking about his behaviour. But ultimately, he apologised and said he recognised standards for personal conduct had evolved in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Trump and his allies seized on the flap, attempting to weaken perhaps his top rival before Biden entered the race.

Even so, Biden was determined to push forward, arguing his background, experience and resume best positioned him to take on Trump next year. In a speech to union members in April, Biden called Trump a “tragedy in two acts”. “This country can’t afford more years of a president looking to settle personal scores,” he said.

Biden’s candidacy will offer early hints about whether Democrats are more interested in finding a centrist who can win over the white working-class voters who went for Trump in 2016, or someone who can fire up the party’s diverse progressive wing, such as Senators Kamala Harris of California, Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Known for his verbal gaffes on the campaign trail, Biden failed to gain traction with voters during his previous runs in 1988 and 2008. Biden decided against a 2016 presidential bid after a lengthy public period of indecision as he wrestled with doubts about whether he and his family were ready for a grueling campaign while mourning his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in May 2015. His son had urged him to run.

Biden faced some of the same family considerations this time around, as he is still coping with Beau’s death while his other son, Hunter, has gone through a divorce amid a reported relationship with Beau’s widow.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019