Joe Biden, who uses his middle-class Scranton roots to cast himself as the Democratic candidate who can win back areas that President Donald Trump won in 2016, now has the backing of two Pennsylvania members of Congress from battleground districts.
U.S. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, of Chester County, and Conor Lamb, of Pittsburgh’s suburbs, are endorsing Biden along with Rep. Elaine Luria, from Virginia Beach, Va. All three represent districts traditionally held by Republicans in key swing 2020 states, feeding Biden’s narrative that he is a consensus candidate in the critical month leading to the primaries.
“Our country needs a steady hand, someone who can help heal the country, an experienced and proven leader who can build teams with deep expertise and work across the aisle," Houlahan said of Biden in a statement released Sunday. "Like me, he believes that in this polarized environment, real change will come from pragmatic solutions that help working families. Pennsylvania is not red or blue but a purple place which our next president needs to carry to win.”
The announcement comes as Biden, whose campaign is headquartered in Philadelphia, aims to build momentum heading into the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, the first votes in the nominating contest. Biden polls around third place in Iowa and New Hampshire, the second-voting state, but remains atop the polls in South Carolina and Nevada. He’s also coming off a strong fund-raising quarter in which his team brought in $22 million, a 50 percent increase over the last quarter, trailing South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s $24.7 million and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $34.5 million.
Biden campaigned for Houlahan, Lamb and Luria in their bids for Congress in 2018. He also has the support of Pennsylvania Reps. Dwight Evans and Brendan Boyle and Sen. Bob Casey. At least five Democrats in Congress from Pennsylvania have yet to endorse in the primary.
Biden handily leads the Democratic primary field in endorsements, according to FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, though the effectiveness of endorsements varies. Endorsements do show support among party leaders and elected officials, helping to build a consensus around a candidate. But with so many people running, they have been slow to come, and some of the party’s most popular figures are still waiting to endorse. Some elected Democrats also become helpful with fund-raising, but they’re not essential. Buttigieg has relatively few endorsements but has bested most of his rivals in fund-raising and still leads in some polls.
For Biden, a former vice president and member of the party establishment, endorsements matter more than they would for a candidate such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running as an outsider. Endorsements signal “you’re a good team player for the party," said Sarah Niebler, a professor of political science at Dickinson College.
“I would expect him to have nearly the entire Pennsylvania [Democratic] delegation of representatives," she said, adding that losing out on endorsements could undercut Biden’s electability argument, "in the same way it would have looked very bad for Hillary Clinton not to get (endorsements) in 2016.”
Houlahan became the first Democrat to represent Chester County in 130 years when she won the 6th congressional district in 2018, after the district was redrawn to include areas with more Democratic voters.
Lamb won by about 627 votes in a March 2018 special election in the 17th congressional district, which Trump had carried by more than 20 points. He ran and won again in the general election that fall after the district lines were redrawn under court order and became more favorable to Democrats.
Luria’s Virginia Beach district also was carried by Trump in 2016.
While Monday marked his official endorsement, Lamb had signaled his support for Biden as early as March when he went back to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and called him a clear front-runner, cautioning against some of the more progressive ideas in the party like the proposal for an expensive Green New Deal program, and how they might turn off voters in Rust Belt districts like his own.
In a campaign briefing memo sent to supporters last week, Biden’s campaign manager highlighted endorsements and fund-raising successes as a sign of a strengthened campaign.