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Joe Biden to launch 2020 presidential campaign next week, plans stop in Philly

The former vice president's preliminary plans call for an announcement in Charlottesville, Va., followed by events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann (not pictured) talks with former Vice President Joe Biden at the university's Irvine Auditorium in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. Biden is the Benjamin Franklin presidential practice professor at Penn.
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann (not pictured) talks with former Vice President Joe Biden at the university's Irvine Auditorium in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. Biden is the Benjamin Franklin presidential practice professor at Penn.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Joe Biden is getting in.

Two sources familiar with Biden’s preliminary plans said the former vice president will announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president on Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va., the site of a clash in August 2017 between white supremacists and counterprotesters that claimed one life.

Biden then will fly to Pittsburgh for a rally in the afternoon and then come to Philadelphia, where he will hold a rally at the Art Museum, though the sources said the plans have been shifting in recent days and could change again.

Comcast senior executive vice president David L. Cohen, an influential Democratic figure, is planning a fund-raiser for Biden at his Philadelphia home Thursday, one sign of the support the former vice president can expect from much of the party establishment, particularly in Pennsylvania. Former Gov. Ed Rendell said he would support Biden, making him one of the most prominent figures in a host of Keystone State insiders expected to do the same.

Rendell has been emailing potential Biden supporters ahead of an expected announcement.

“As I’ve been making calls, Joe Biden has a ton of friends here, and that’s not unexpected,” Rendell said. He, too, stressed that none of the plans have been given a final go-ahead.

Biden is also said to be eyeing Philadelphia as a potential headquarters for his run. WHYY first reported the planned fund-raiser. The Atlantic first reported that Biden had reached a decision to seek the presidency for a third time, following bids in 1988 and 2008.

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The campaign rollout schedule, if it holds, would highlight one of the most divisive moments of President Donald Trump’s term — when he said there were “very fine people on both sides" of the neo-Nazi march and counterprotest — as well as Biden’s public persona and his political route to the White House.

Biden has called for a return to a more decent, civil politics, saying the country’s character is under assault by Trump.

"We’re in a battle for the soul of America,” Biden has said repeatedly as he has toured the country.

The Scranton-born Biden, a former senator from Delaware, has long presented himself as a link between Democrats and working-class white voters, many of whom deserted the party in 2016 and helped flip critical states, including Pennsylvania, to Trump.

“Middle-class American folks have never let the country down,” Biden said in a video that played before a recent speech to the Fire Fighters union in Washington. “You have been the centerpiece of everything I have done.”

Biden’s supporters say he is the Democrats’ best option for winning back the swing states likely to determine the 2020 outcome.

“I’m of a strong belief that Donald Trump will not be easy to beat, and we need a moderate, left-of-center Democrat to win back those blue-collar Democrats in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio,” Rendell said.

Until now Rendell had supported Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) in the primary, but said Friday he would primarily support Biden if the former vice president runs while still helping Klobuchar raise money.

A coalition of old-guard donors in Philadelphia have already pledged support to Biden if he runs, among them influential lawyers Alan Kessler, Tom Leonard, and Stephen Cozen.

A Biden spokesman declined to comment Friday.

Polling suggests that Biden would enter the race as a clear front-runner in a sprawling Democratic field, with many party insiders seeing him as their safest bet for victory. In particular, some see Biden as the strongest alternative to Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind., Vt.). Sanders has consistently placed second in public polls, but some establishment Democrats view Sanders as too liberal to win a national race.

Despite the former vice president’s advantages in name recognition and the residual benefits of eight years alongside President Barack Obama, Biden, at 76, will face questions about whether he is too old for the presidency, or if he fits with a Democratic Party increasingly reliant on a diverse coalition of activists.

His record amassed over nearly 50 years in public includes a number of instances that appear out of step with current Democratic thinking, including his support for a 1990s crime bill that increased incarceration rates, and his leadership of a hearing questioning Anita Hill about her sexual harassment claims against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

And some of the party’s most vocal elements have called for a generational change, particularly as a contrast to Trump, who is 72 and has built much of his appeal on nostalgia.

Still, Biden has remained atop polling for the Democratic primary, a sign that supporters cite as evidence that the Democratic electorate as a whole is more moderate than some of its most vocal elements.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said no permits had been issued so far for a rally along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, at Eakins Oval, or at the “Rocky” steps.