As he jogged to the stage, US President Joe Biden showed no signs of anxiety over his son’s recent indictment on gun charges, and neither did the audience.
The audience applauded and whooped when he arrived at a college in Largo, Maryland, to deliver a speech intended at shifting the focus away from his recent issues and back to his “Bidenomics” plan.
Following that, they crowded around to shake the 80-year-old’s hand or take photographs, their concerns about polling, impeachment investigations, age, and criminal accusations temporarily forgotten.
“That’s a distraction, that’s a political distraction,” Susanna Anderson, 49, said of the president’s problems.
Wearing a blue T-shirt made by her own small business saying “The VP Looks Like Me” — a reference to Vice President Kamala Harris, who is Black — the mother of two showed a picture she took with Biden.
“When they have an election coming up they have to throw something and see if it sticks. I’m not focused on that,” she added.
The night before, Biden used the exact same words — “not focused” — as he brushed aside the impeachment probe launched by Republican lawmakers over Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
He made no mention on Thursday of the fact that his son had been indicted for buying a gun when he was using drugs, casting a new shadow over Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
What about his age, a frequent lightning rod for criticism by Republicans against America’s oldest president?
“Did you see him run up the stage? I’m not worried about that,” said Enicia Porter, 34. “He has a firm handshake… He reminds me of my grandfather.”
The White House has been keen to get Biden out on the campaign trail again, amid a sense that his stewardship of America’s economic recovery is not registering in the polls.
For his speech at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, given against a backdrop of American flags and “Bidenomics” signs, Biden introduced a new line of attack: MAGAnomics.
The idea is to portray all Republicans as followers of former president Donald Trump — known for his “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) slogan — and highlight Trump’s economic failures.
Biden also sought to blame them for the threat of a looming government shutdown at the end of this month.
But was the message getting through here, to the audience of around 200 local people and college students in a dormitory town half an hour’s drive from the White House, let alone to millions of voters?
“I think this was a good tip of the iceberg,” said Porter, a local chapter treasurer of Student Veterans of America. “But I’m going to need more concrete follow up.”
Porter said she had asked Biden about housing in particular “and he nodded and said we have a whole plan.”
Biden still had work to do to convince the electorate, agreed Don Pruett, 68, director of planning at the college.
The president’s speech is “going to plant the seeds and over the course of time it needs to be nurtured,” he said. “We need to see the fruits.”
Susanna Anderson, the blue T-shirt wearer, said Biden was “getting the message through to the people who need to hear” — including her sister, who she said had recently had her student loans forgiven by the Biden administration, a move Republicans detest.
Biden pushed the point home repeatedly, banging the lectern at one point as he recited Republican pledges to cut spending.
He also slammed Trump’s record, warning that “democracy is under attack” and threatening a rematch with Trump in 2024, who is facing a slew of criminal allegations, including election tampering.
With a gruelling campaign ahead, Pruett reckoned Biden faced a “tough road” for re-election.
But he added: “There’s so much chaos on the other side… if he continues to be stable, Papa Joe will be there.”