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Character on the ballot, Biden tells crowd at rally for McCaskill

Character on the ballot, Biden tells crowd at rally for McCaskill

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BRIDGETON • Joe Biden came to campaign for Sen. Claire McCaskill and other Democrats on Wednesday and declared that “unions built the middle class” while President Donald Trump was leading the nation into an era of incivility and meanness.

Biden did not name Trump in a 42-minute stemwinder, but the former vice president embedded references to Trump throughout.

“There is something different about this year’s elections,” Biden told about 1,000 people in a packed union hall here. “This year’s election is bigger than politics. It really is, because the character of our country is on the ballot.”

Biden said he decided to jump back into public life, eschewing tradition of former presidents and vice presidents just out of office staying quiet to give successors room, after he heard Trump draw “moral equivalency” between racists and bigots, and protesters, in Charlottesville, Va., last year.

“Hate will continue to grow if we do not speak up, and speak out,” Biden said, to shouts of “tell it Joe.”

“Our children are listening,” Biden said. “They are listening, they are watching, and it is having an impact on them.”

“The words of our leaders matter,” Biden went on. “Folks, silence is complicit in it. Folks, we will not be silent.”

He urged a vote for McCaskill, saying, “People listen to her,” and he warned of a continued “war” on labor if Republicans maintained power.

Biden criticized Republicans in Congress for “spending more time protecting a guy most of them don’t agree with than standing up for the principles and ideals” that make America.

He said deficits that have climbed again over $1 trillion under Trump and the Republican-led Congress threatened vital social programs.

“They keep the House and Senate, they will emasculate Medicare,” Biden said.

America, Biden said, needs leaders that “won’t bully or belittle people.”

“We are so much better than this. We are so much better as a nation.”

McCaskill, locked in a fierce battle with Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, introduced Biden as “a comfortable pair of slippers” who is “our Joe.”

“It is about a fight worth fighting and a battle worth winning, and I am so thrilled you are in it with me,” McCaskill told the union members.

“We got something special going in, I am telling you,” McCaskill went on, promising to shock “bigwig” Republicans who were “drooling” over the opportunity to defeat her.

“We’re not going to give up Harry Truman’s Senate seat without a fight,” she said.

“Go, Claire,” the crowd chanted back.

Biden, who earlier Wednesday rallied with Illinois congressional candidate Brendan Kelly in Fairmont City in the Metro East, appeared with McCaskill and other Democratic candidates at the International Association of Machinists’ District 9 headquarters.

McCaskill came to the stage to James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” She recounted news of another poll showing the race with Hawley essentially tied.

McCaskill and Biden were preceded by local Democratic candidates, including St. Louis County prosecutor candidate Wesley Bell, and Cort VanOstran, who is challenging Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin.

“We have got to play some offense and we can flip some seats, and we can flip the 2nd Congressional district,” VanOstran said.

Biden made many of the same points at the Metro East event, saying “it’s on our leaders ... to begin to change the tone and dial down the temperature” of political discourse.

More than 400 people crowded into Iron Workers Hall, with others watching from outside.

Biden lauded Kelly, the St. Clair County state’s attorney trying to unseat Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, for setting up a division in his office to prosecute crimes against children.

Also speaking were Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic nominee for governor; and nominees for other statewide offices.

Biden, 75, who is considering running for president in 2020, is the biggest name to campaign with McCaskill during this campaign.

By contrast, Trump has been in Missouri campaigning three times already this year. And he will be in Columbia, Mo., Thursday night, and then again in Cape Girardeau Monday night, as he attempts to rally voters around Republican candidates, primarily McCaskill’s opponent, Hawley.

Hawley said that it was fitting that a member of the administration of Barack Obama came to campaign for McCaskill, because she voted with Obama almost all of the time.

Obama and Biden twice lost Missouri while winning the White House in 2008 and 2012. Obama raised money for McCaskill in California earlier this year but stayed away from officially endorsing her or stumping for McCaskill in Missouri itself.

“I just wonder, was President Obama not available?” Hawley said earlier Wednesday. “Why isn’t it that President Obama is here? She is certainly willing to go to Hollywood and raise money with him. Why isn’t he coming to the state?”

Mark Schlinkmann of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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