WAUKEE, Iowa — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden used President Trump’s planned visit here Thursday to draw a pointed contrast with the Republican commander-in-chief’s character and to drive home his closing argument: Mr. Trump and his inner circle are terrified of squaring off with him in the 2020 general election.
Despite the best efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to smear him and his family during the impeachment trial on Capitol Hill, Mr. Biden said he’s beating the president in the court of public opinion with a positive vision that will pull the nation together and steer it away from the “culture of cruelty” and “dark side” of politics that Mr. Trump has embraced.
“He is more bully than president,” Mr. Biden told voters who welcomed him with chants of “Joe! Joe! Joe! Joe!”
“He is more George Wallace than he is George Washington,” Mr. Biden said. “Hate groups are listening and they have heard the dog whistle of a president and they have grown to be emboldened as a consequence.”
Mr. Biden first raised the comparison of Mr. Trump to Mr. Wallace last July, after Trump supporters at a campaign rally chanted “send her back” in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar, a native of Somalia.
When Mr. Biden ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, he invoked Mr. Wallace’s name for a different reason. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in September 1988 that Mr. Biden, while campaigning in Alabama that year, “talked of his sympathy for the South; bragged of an award he had received from George Wallace in 1973 and said ‘we (Delawareans) were on the South’s side in the Civil War.’”
The Trump campaign ridiculed Mr. Biden last summer over his former appreciation for Mr. Wallace.
“Hey @JoeBiden, maybe you forgot, but the only person in this race connected to George Wallace is you,” the Trump War Room tweeted.
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who served as secretary of Agriculture in the Obama administration, and his wife, Christie, joined Mr. Biden at the campaign stop.
Mr. Trump has a campaign rally scheduled Tuesday night in Des Moines.
Mr. Biden said he looks forward to debating Mr. Trump on Obamacare and climate change and gun restrictions and national security.
“All these issues are on the ballot, but there is something on the ballot that is even bigger, even more important: the character of the nation is on the ballot – America’s character,” he said. “I do not believe in the dark, angry, nation that Donald Trump sees in his dark angry tweets in the middle of the night.”
He said, “America is so much better than this.”
The pointed speech drew a mob of national media, underscoring the sense of urgency and anticipation that is building ahead of Monday’s caucuses, which will sound the official starting gun in the Democratic nomination race.
Mr. Biden is narrowly trailing Sen. Bernard Sanders in Iowa polls, but he does marginally better than his primary rivals in hypothetical general election showdown with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden holds a 4% lead over Mr. Trump, according to The Real Clear Politics average of polls that show Mr. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren also lead Mr. Trump, but by smaller margins.
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is locked in a dead heat with the Republican commander-in-chief.
The prospect of a mano a mano race between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden has hung over the impeachment trial in Washington.
Mr. Trump faces impeachment for allegedly pressuring Ukraine leaders to dig up dirt on Mr. Biden by withholding taxpayer funded military assistance.
Mr. Trump and his supporters have countered that Mr. Biden abused his power as vice president by pushing Ukraine to drop a criminal investigation into a Ukrainian energy company.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.
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