When Joe Biden entered the 2020 race on Thursday, he made no mention of Barack Obama in his launch video. But his former boss loomed large throughout the day.
In an Instagram post announcing his candidacy, Team Biden posted a photo of the former vice president with his arm around Obama.
On Biden’s website, the campaign highlighted how close their relationship was: “A running mate becomes a friend for life.”
Allies also noted that Biden had brought to his campaign former Obama aide Anita Dunn to help steer his communications shop. “The band is back together,” one ally said.
Another ally pointed to Biden’s support from Obama mega-donor Jeffrey Katzenberg, who signed on to co-chair an upcoming fundraiser.
“Fired up. Ready for Joe,” Stef Feldman, a Biden policy adviser, tweeted Thursday, an echo of the Obama campaign’s “Fired up. Ready to go,” slogan in 2008.
The Obama nods were no coincidence. The hires and statements show how Biden wants to tie himself closely to the former president with the hope of rebuilding his coalition.
“Tying himself to Obama is one of the smartest things he can do,” said one prominent Democratic strategist who has worked on presidential campaigns. “It’s one of the best strategies and he’s the only one in this race who can do it.”
“In some ways, it’s such a basic sales pitch,” added David Litt, a former Obama speechwriter and the author of the bestseller “Thanks, Obama.”
While Biden did everything he could to highlight his Obama connections, the ex-president played it straight.
An Obama spokesperson heaped praise on Biden a short time after his launch on Thursday. But Obama — who has pledged to stay neutral in the Democratic primary — stopped short of an endorsement.
There were no tweets about Biden from the former president on Thursday — or from the supremely popular former first lady, Michelle Obama.
And while Biden secured a string of endorsements on Thursday, the lack of an Obama endorsement created a competing storyline.
“If you are the best choice for the Democrats in 2020, why didn’t President Obama endorse you?” a reporter asked Biden on Thursday after the former vice president arrived on an Acela train in Wilmington.
“I asked President Obama not to endorse,” Biden said. “Whoever wins this nomination should win this on their own merits.”
It’s a sentiment Biden has shared with allies and friends in phone conversations and meetings in recent months.
“He knows Obama will influence the race. Obama will loom large whether he likes it or not, and that’s a good thing for him,” one longtime Biden friend said. “But Joe wants to earn it on his own.”
Robert Wolf, the prominent Democratic donor and former economic adviser to Obama, said the lack of an endorsement won’t hurt Biden in the primary.
“People who decide to support Joe will do so because he’s viewed as the best candidate who can defeat Donald Trump and he’ll be the best president and not because he was Obama’s vice president,” Wolf said. “We know from past elections that votes aren’t transferable.”
Still, Biden allies predicted that the former vice president would continue to tie himself to Obama throughout the campaign.
“It would be malpractice if he didn’t,” one ally said.