LAS VEGAS, Nevada—When former Vice President Joe Biden finally made it to the stage at the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 event on Saturday, the mild morning had been broken up by a scorching sun beating down on the asphalt. Voters were shielding their eyes as the rays crested above the union’s headquarters, with one woman using a leftover Dunkin Donuts box to block the punishing sun.
Acknowledging the rising temperatures, Biden who had already stripped away his token aviator sunglasses after Bruce Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” played, started removing his suit jacket as one attendee happily encouraged him to take it off. “See if you could get a good price for it,” the last vice president of the United States joked as he tossed it aside.
But it wasn’t all fun and games for “the scrappy kid from Scranton.” Biden, who has been traversing the country as he weighs a potential bid for the presidency, was drumming up support on the first day of early voting in Nevada including this crucial union that has lifted Democrats to victory in the state in previous elections.
Over 400 miles away, in the northern Nevada city of Elko, Air Force One was landing carrying not only the president, but also incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who infamously once said that he was “100 percent against Clinton and 99 percent against Trump.” He has since moved much closer to the President, voting in favor of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and shifting his positions on Obamacare repeal. The latter has become a big feature of his opponent Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) on the campaign trail.
The closer kinship was on display on Saturday as Heller told the president “I think everything you touch turns to gold.”
Heller, who has confidently said he’s never lost an election in the state, was deemed the most vulnerable of the Republican incumbents this election cycle as the only one to run in a state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Nevada broke for Clinton by 2.4 percentage points while she only won two counties including Clark, the most populous by far, and the one in which Biden was rallying on Saturday.
The incumbent senator narrowly leads the average of polls conducted in the race, which currently is considered a toss-up. Hence the presence of Biden and Trump, who will be followed by former President Barack Obama on Monday.
This is not the first time the two potential 2020 opponents have found themselves rallying the troops in the same state within hours of each other. Just over a week ago, Biden and Trump paid a visit to Kentucky to boost the opposing candidates in a close House race in the state.
Biden’s appearance at the Vegas rally, which featured everyone from elected officials like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) to a mariachi band to actor Billy Eichner—who joked that later Biden and George Clooney would rob the Bellagio—was explicitly there to assist Rosen (D-NV), the first-term Congresswoman, as well as other down-ballot and statewide tickets.
“This election is literally bigger than politics,” Biden said over a podium with a VoteNVDems.com sign. “I really mean it. No matter how old or young you are, you’ve never participated in an election that is as consequential as this election nationally and locally.”
Biden, who spoke of his fondness for compromise and his close friendship with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) at whose funeral he spoke, said that the current Republican members of Congress are “putting their party over their country.”
Perhaps no one is most to blame for that than Trump, according to Biden, who harshly criticized the president for what he called a “shredding” of American values. Referring specifically to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the former vice president expressed outrage over Trump’s response to the horrific event.
“They’re wondering where in the hell are we?” he said of the world looking at America’s leadership. “You know that old expression, ‘Some people bring a gun to a knife fight?’ Well, you don’t bring bone saws to fights,” he said referring to reports that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered. “What is going on here? It’s embarrassing but it’s also dangerous. You know, it’s more than malarkey, man. It’s undermining our world-wide reputation for decency.”
Trump would later reportedly solicit advice in Elko as to whether he should refer to Biden as “Sleepy Joe” or “1 percent Joe,” compare the crowd sizes of their respective events (Biden drew 515 people according to event organizers) and say that Obama took Biden “off of the trash heap and made him vice president.”
While many in the Vegas crowd were excited to see Biden, forming a line to get selfies after the event, there was a mixture of enthusiasm and some guarded caution from Democratic voters about the prospect of the 75-year-old taking on Trump in 2020.
“I’d like to see as many people who are interested get in it,” William Carrico, a 67-year-old who recently retired from the federal public defender’s office in Las Vegas, told The Daily Beast. “I’m not afraid of a real debate among potential candidates.” He said he wouldn’t hesitate to back Biden, but wondered if the party could put up a more palatable option for everyone.
“And are there better candidates out there? Quite frankly younger candidates? Yeah,” Carrico conceded. “But I’m also at an age where I have to give a lot of credit to experience. And Joe Biden certainly has the experience. He knows how politics work to get things done.” Asked about the younger candidates to whom he was referring, Carrico said he liked Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the 54-year-old junior senator from California who is also considering a bid.
Others at the rally wondered if Biden would be a sufficient motivator for younger voters.
“I love love him but we need someone that can get the younger vote in,” remarked 69-year-old Becky Ulrey.
For today though, the focus was on ensuring victories for Nevada Democrats, where without the defeat of Heller, the party has no hope of regaining a majority in the Senate.
“These guys are not the good guys right now. This is not your father’s Republican party,” Biden concluded. “So folks, it’s time to get up. Lift our heads up. Remember who the hell we are. This is America. Let’s take back the Senate and change the world as we know it. Now, now, now.”