Among a sprawling Democratic presidential primary, former Penn professor Joe Biden has steadfastly held onto his frontrunner status for months, according to national polls.
Most of the former vice president's support, however, has been among older voters, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) leading the youth vote and Biden struggling to appeal to those aged 18 to 29. A pair of Penn seniors want to change that by stirring up support for Biden among young voters on campus through the new group, Penn for Biden.
Penn for Biden currently has a Facebook group with more than 80 members, which the group's leaders have used to promote Biden's events. The group has also encouraged students to apply for fall internships with Biden's campaign, which is headquartered in Philadelphia.
The group launched late last semester — days after Biden's campaign announcement. The former Penn Presidential Professor of Practice is taking an unpaid leave of absence from his post during his campaign.
The group's co-founders, Wharton senior Dylan Milligan and College senior Gabriel Barnett, said they want to convince students to support the former vice president because of his political know-how and electability.
“He's the most experienced, most accomplished candidate, and he has the broadest appeal,” Barnett said. “He’s the Democrat that will beat Donald Trump.”
Milligan said Biden's centrist ideology would more likely help Democrats beat Trump compared to Biden's more progressive rivals, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who was a former Penn Law professor.
“Biden’s persona as a moderate Democrat certainly puts him in a position to obtain a lot of votes,” said Milligan, the former president of Penn Democrats. “He’s clearly one of the strongest candidates in the field.”
Biden’s long track record of public service is also appealing, Milligan said.
“He has a long list of legislative and executive achievements,” he said. "His presence on the national stage and his ability to be a statesman over the last 50 years speaks very well to his candidacy.”
Despite Biden's strong lead, pundits have cited a number of concerns, such as his age and his frequent gaffes. Earlier this month, Biden misspoke and said "poor kids" were just as bright as "white kids," later correcting himself. Biden also mistakenly said he met with survivors of the Parkland shooting while he was vice president, even though the tragedy occurred after he left office. This week, Biden also erroneously identified the dates of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
Barnett defended Biden and brushed off his frequent gaffes.
“A quote out of context in the news or an attack line from an opponent isn’t going to change people’s minds about someone they’ve seen in action for eight years as Obama’s vice president,” Barnett, a former vice president of Penn Dems, said. “Gaffes probably just won’t matter anymore in the era of Donald Trump.”
Another central concern is his long legislative record, which includes votes unpopular with the current Democratic base. Warren recently called for the repeal of the 1994 Crime Bill, which Biden authored while he was a senator from Delaware.
Milligan acknowledged Biden’s legislative errors, but said they should be viewed as a learning experience.
“In many ways, he exudes experience, that he has such a long legislative record and has modified it to improve his stance on issues,” he said. “He fully admits he has made legislative errors in what he’s supported in his past.”
While the former Penn Dems president has now shifted his focus on supporting Biden, Penn Dems has not yet endorsed a presidential candidate.
Although the group is waiting to endorse a candidate, the Biden campaign has reached out to them, Penn Dems Communication Director and College sophomore Tamara Wurman said.
“The campaign reached out to us once this summer asking for volunteers, but we forwarded it to the Penn for Biden campus group,” said Wurman, who is a Daily Pennsylvanian staff member. “We'd love to collaborate with any Democratic campaigns in the upcoming semester.”
Wurman said the group would help members get involved in campaigns they support this fall.
“We're hoping to have presentations at our Deputy Board Meetings so members can learn more about how to get involved in campaigns before we make an official endorsement,” she said.
Penn Dems President EJ Carlson said there is no single candidate that stands out to the group.
“At the moment everyone seems to have three to four candidates they like,” Carlson said.
Although other candidates — most notably Warren and Trump — have links to Penn, Biden has lifelong roots in Pennsylvania. The former vice president was born in Scranton, and served as senator for nearby Delaware for almost four decades.
During his tenure as a Presidential Professor of Practice at Penn, Biden took part in a number of events, such as voter registration drives and conversations with Penn President Amy Gutmann and other figures.
Milligan said Biden’s home roots in Pennsylvania and nearby Delaware could prove crucial in winning Pennsylvania in 2020.
“He’s kind of a hometown boy for people here in the tri-state area,” Milligan said.