Former Vice President Joe Biden urged voters to support Phil Murphy in the New Jersey governor’s race this year, saying Americans need to send a message rejecting the “crass and mean-spirited, negative and uncomfortable rhetoric” fostered by President Trump.
“This is the single most important race in the country in the next three years before the presidential race,” Biden said at a Murphy rally in Lyndhurst with more than 1,000 attendees. “There’s other important states, but this is an off-year election … and the whole country, and without exaggeration, the world, is going to look at it.
“They’re going to look to decide whether or not America’s bought into this crass and mean-spirited, negative and uncomfortable rhetoric that we have been subject to the last 10 months, or whether or not we’re able to reestablish and reassert who we are.”
With nine days to go before the gubernatorial primaries on June 6, Murphy leads the Democratic field with 34 percent support, according to a Stockton University poll released last week.
The survey showed one-third of Democrats remained undecided. But at the rally on Sunday, Murphy seemed to be shifting his focus to the general election.
“I will be that governor with a steel backbone who will say, ‘Mr. Trump, not in New Jersey you will not do that,’” Murphy told the crowd, attacking the president for proposing large tax cuts for the wealthy and mistreating immigrants. He proposed to raise the state minimum wage to $15, invest in infrastructure, toughen gun control laws and make reforms to the criminal justice system.
“All the while we’re fighting to undo the damage that Governor Christie has done, we’re going to have to deal with a hostile administration down in Washington,” Murphy said.
The event was a reminder of the high-level connections Murphy has amassed in the Democratic Party after years of serving as U.S. ambassador to Germany under Biden and President Barack Obama, and after a successful stint as finance chair of the Democratic National Committee in the years leading up to Obama’s election in 2009.
Biden said he flew to Germany about five years ago to try to recruit Murphy for “an earlier race,” egged on by former U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat.
“I went because I thought and Frank insisted, and other people told me, that this guy had all the stuff not only to be 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.”
Biden didn’t say what race and a spokesman for Murphy declined to comment on it after the event. Gov. Chris Christie coasted to re-election in the 2013 governor’s race after many Democrats passed up the chance to challenge him at the height of his popularity.
Biden himself remains one of the most popular figures in the Democratic Party. A survey of registered voters by Public Policy Polling earlier this month found that he would beat Trump in a hypothetical 2020 match-up, 54 percent to 40 percent.
The former vice president has said he’s not running. But he had a lot to say about modern society and the plight of the American middle class on Sunday. He took Trump to task for “embarrassing moments” during a NATO summit last week in Europe.
“The middle class is being stuck,” Biden said. “As the world changed and is changing, there’s a lot of people out there who are frightened. Trump played on their fears.”
He continued, “Digitalization, Moore’s law, globalization has left a lot of people behind and what we haven’t done in my view, and this is a criticism of all of us, we haven’t spoken enough to the fears and aspirations of the people we come from.”
Biden mentioned “the guy making $50,000 bucks on an assembly line” and “his wife making $28,000 as a hostess.”
“They have $78,000, two kids, live in a metropolitan area, and they can hardly make it,” he said.
Murphy is a former Goldman Sachs executive who has spent nearly $20 million on his campaign so far and loaned himself $15 million.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who is vying for the Democratic nomination, is debuting a TV ad on “60 Minutes” on Sunday linking Murphy to Trump and the financial crisis.
“Meet Phil Murphy,” the narrator says. “Another wall street banker running for governor — whose firm helped trigger the financial meltdown that put millions out of work and out of their homes. Murphy’s trying to buy the election, paying off New Jersey bosses.”
Both Biden and Murphy come from a working-class Irish background and the former vice president said he trusts Murphy’s “gut.”
“We come from essentially a similar neighborhood,” Biden said. “We came from the same basic roots. I suspect almost all of you in this room did.”