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Times recommends: Joe Biden for Democrats
The former vice president also could appeal to Republicans and independent voters in November, says the Times editorial board.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

This is an extraordinary moment. The polarizing president who has shattered the norms wants a second term in the nation’s highest office. Rather than focus on ideological purity, Democrats should unite behind someone who can bridge the partisan divide to build a winning majority. Former Vice President Joe Biden has the experience, skills and temperament to best meet that challenge.

As both political parties tilt toward their extremes, Biden could steer the country toward the middle with a steady hand. He first ran for U.S. Senate at 29 years old and served for 36 years before spending eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president. He knows how to make government work for the greater good, and he has collaborated with Republicans and Democrats alike.

Unlike Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the other remaining key contender for the Democratic nomination, Biden takes positions that are progressive and possible. He would pursue universal health coverage by building on the Affordable Care Act, not by pushing a government takeover that Congress won’t approve and Americans won’t support. He was an early leader on climate change and embraces aggressive goals, but he would not immediately ban fracking that extracts natural gas. He would forgive student loan debt in exchange for public service and suggests two years of community college could be free, but he does not call for all student loan debt to be magically wiped away or embrace the fantasy of entirely free tuition at public colleges and universities.

The Super Tuesday results also demonstrate Biden can boost voter turnout, particularly among blacks, women and suburban voters. There is no evidence Sanders can fulfill his pledge to bring out a wave of younger new voters who would impact the general election.

Joe Biden vs. Donald Trump would be a contest between two white men in their 70s who grew up in a different era. But the stark differences in public policy and personal dignity would be clear to voters in Florida and the nation. Unlike Trump:

-- Biden was not born into wealth. He grew up in a middle-class suburb outside Wilmingon, Del., the son of a car salesman. He moved back to the area after law school and never left, famously commuting daily to Washington on Amtrak.

-- Biden has a history of working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress on issues ranging from foreign policy to criminal justice. He does not treat members of the other political party as the enemy.

-- Biden has extensive foreign policy experience and long-term relationships with foreign leaders around the globe. He recognizes the importance of supporting allies in Europe and elsewhere – and of cultivating partnerships on issues such as defense, climate change and trade. He would stand up to Russia’s aggression and its interference in U.S. elections.

-- Biden has established strong ties to racial minorities, women and the LGBTQ community that would help him build an inclusive administration and a coalition that would generate support for common goals.

-- Biden possesses a decency and an empathy that resonates, in part because he has shared his stories of personal loss. His wife and daughter were killed in a traffic accident in the 1970s, and in 2015 his 46-year-old son Beau died of brain cancer.

As Obama’s vice president, Biden was a genuine partner. He oversaw the government stimulus program that was essential to the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession. He was an important voice on foreign policy, from the Iran nuclear deal to the Paris climate agreement. And the popular former president’s full-throated support should help drive voter turnout in November.

After decades in public office, Biden understandably has plenty of votes and policy positions his opponents could exploit. In the 1980s, he voted for legislation that would have allowed states to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark opinion on abortion rights, Roe v. Wade. In the 1990s, he voted for criminal justice legislation that increased penalties for drug trafficking and made other changes leading to mass incarcerations. In 2002, he joined 28 other Senate Democrats to vote for the resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq pushed by President George W. Bush’s administration.

Unlike the incumbent, though, Biden has evolved in his thinking over the years and is in line with today’s mainstream Democrats. He wants to increase funding for public schools with students from low-income families. He supports abortion rights, and he recognizes the impact that tougher drug sentences had on minority neighborhoods. It’s important for public officials to adjust their policy positions to account for new information and evolving public sentiment, and Biden has managed that successfully.

Before Biden’s remarkable victories on Super Tuesday, his modest campaign operation, lack of fundraising and uneven performance during debates raised doubt about whether he is best suited to take on Trump. The campaign will require a nimble, vigorous and sophisticated effort that will be expensive. The old conventions, sensibilities and traditions may not be enough.

Those legitimate concerns prompted former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to enter the race, and Biden’s performance this week led Bloomberg to drop out and endorse him. Now Bloomberg should follow through with his pledge to help provide the financial resources and sophisticated analytics Biden will need in the general election.

Sanders likely will fight for the nomination until this summer’s Democratic National Convention. Like Trump, he has a base of fervent supporters. But Sanders’ proposals for a government monopoly on health care, free college tuition and student debt forgiveness are unaffordable and unrealistic. It is implausible that a self-described democratic socialist could attract enough moderate voters to win the general election.

Biden’s mainstream approach and personal decency could appeal to Republican and independent voters seeking an alternative to the incumbent in November. For the Democratic nomination for president in the March 17 primary election, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Joe Biden.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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