Politics|Why This Joe Biden Health Care Ad Stands Out
Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign on Tuesday made an extraordinarily emotional appeal for his candidacy and his health care proposal through a new ad that highlights his struggles with grief and family loss, a message that reminds voters of the good will and empathy many have for the former vice president while accentuating one of his central policy goals.
In the 60-second television spot, called “Personal,” Mr. Biden tells the stories of his family tragedies that he often shares on the campaign trail as he discusses the importance of health care access. But the ad is striking for the wrenching images of Mr. Biden with his two sons who survived a car crash that killed his first wife and a daughter in 1972. One of those children, Beau Biden, would die of cancer in 2015, a development that drew widespread sympathy in Washington and around the country toward the end of Mr. Biden’s second term in the Obama administration.
While many Democratic voters have pointed to the political calculus about electability in explaining their early support for Mr. Biden, others have cited what they see as his ability to connect with people after facing so much personal adversity of his own.
The spot is running in Iowa, part of a six-figure media campaign announced last week. The campaign’s decision to launch the initial television advertising effort in the state that kicks off the presidential nominating process comes as Mr. Biden has dealt with a series of gaffes and controversies this summer, while also confronting stiffer challenges from rivals like Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Ms. Warren’s gains in Iowa have not gone unnoticed by the Biden campaign, according to some of his allies, who see her as his biggest challenge in the state. Aides are quick to note, however, that he has landed endorsements from several prominent Iowans who in 2016 supported Senator Bernie Sanders, who like Ms. Warren is a prominent progressive vying for the 2020 nomination.
The new ad begins with Mr. Biden referring to the 1972 car crash. Images of his two young sons recovering in the hospital, where he was sworn in as a senator from Delaware, are displayed on the screen.
“I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if we didn’t have the health care they needed immediately,” Mr. Biden says in the spot.
The ad also references Beau Biden’s battle with brain cancer and flashes an image of Mr. Biden appearing to struggle emotionally.
Mr. Biden frequently discusses his family tragedies on the trail now, and did so during his run for president in the 2008 campaign. But he has not always been comfortable doing so, friends say. As recently as 2015, a Los Angeles Times report indicated that Mr. Biden considered a commercial that discussed the car accident to be treading on “sacred ground.” The group behind that spot, which was encouraging Mr. Biden to run for president, went on to say it would not televise that ad, and Mr. Biden did not seek the presidency the following year.
“For decades Joe did not talk on the campaign trail or in public events about the ways in which life really, you know, brought him to his knees, the loss of Neilia and his daughter and the ways in which those first couple of years were incredibly hard for him,” Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said in an interview in May, referring to Mr. Biden’s first wife. “In recent years he’s opened up a great deal more about it. And the equally tragic loss of his son Beau is something he’s turned into an opportunity to connect with the whole country.”
The new spot is not just about family tragedy; it is described by the campaign as a health care ad, touching on an issue that was critical to the Democrats’ victories in the 2018 midterm elections.
The commercial obliquely makes an argument Mr. Biden often advances more directly on the campaign trail: that his Democratic opponents who support “Medicare for all,” a single-payer health care system, are by default supporting the replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Mr. Biden’s opponents say their goal is to further expand robust health care coverage.
As he often does, Mr. Biden highlights his relationship with former President Barack Obama to argue for expanding on the current health care law rather than pursuing a more sweeping measure. Emphasizing his partnership with Mr. Obama, a respected figure in the Democratic Party, has been a central strategy in Mr. Biden’s campaign.
“Health care is personal to me,” Mr. Biden says. “Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president try to tear it down and others propose to replace it and start over, that’s personal to me too. We’ve got to build on what we did because every American deserves affordable health care.”
Last week, Mr. Biden released the first television ad of his campaign, called “Bones.” It highlighted his standing against President Trump in early polls and sought to paint Mr. Biden as best positioned to beat him in a high-stakes moment for the country, even as he has seen his lead over his rivals slip in some polls.
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