Biden Campaigns In South Carolina
NOEL KING, HOST:
Joe Biden is being criticized for fabricating details in a war story that he told on the campaign trail. Biden is prone to these kinds of flubs and gaffes. He dismisses the criticism, and his voters are also forgiving. NPR's Asma Khalid brought us this story from South Carolina.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: The former vice president begins nearly every speech with a dire moral warning. This is a battle for the soul of this nation.
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JOE BIDEN: You know, we all know in our gut this election is different. And words of a president matter.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.
BIDEN: They matter.
KHALID: Appealing to people's decency is Biden's shtick, and so is being a talker. He could talk for over an hour at a town hall, wandering through the crowds to look someone in the eye or give a baby a kiss.
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BIDEN: I sometimes get in trouble because I - no one ever doubts I say what I mean. Sometimes, I say all that I mean. That's the problem.
KHALID: From the outset, I should explain. A lot of folks don't yet know who they're voting for. A poll earlier this summer from NBC and The Wall Street Journal showed just 12% of Democratic primary voters said they had definitively made up their mind. But one finding that has been consistent is Joe Biden's lead in the field. And although there have been doubts about his strength as a candidate, part of his resiliency seems to be the affection he generates from his supporters.
ROBBIN SMITH: I believe this man has a heart.
KHALID: Robbin Smith showed me a photo she took with the former vice president years ago. She brought it to Biden's rally in Gaffney to show him.
SMITH: When I listen to him, it's so sincere, and I think about all the tragedies he's been through. So he understands what people are going through.
KHALID: Sincere is a word I heard a lot.
STEPHANIE GRUBER: I think he's sincere. You know how Trump calls him creepy Joe because he hugs people? Well, I'm a hugger. And my parents brought me up that a hug is better than a handshake.
KHALID: That's Stephanie Gruber. We met at a Biden event in Spartanburg. Multiple times, I noticed women telling Biden they wanted to give him a hug. They initiated, not him. The very things that Biden is criticized for are sometimes the same things that endear him to some rank-and-file voters. Vera Jeter-Jones told me she doesn't think it's fair how people attack Biden for his gaffes.
VERA JETER-JONES: We all put our foot in mouth at times - I do, too. You know, when you up in front of a group, it's different. Sometimes something just won't come out right.
KHALID: Jeter-Jones told me she's known Biden for a long time - well, not personally. In fact, she's never met him before. But she feels like she knows him because he served under Barack Obama. Among older African American voters, Biden's loyalty to the country's first black president is a key factor in their support. And it's why there's such a willingness to forgive and defend him. Jeter-Jones did not like how Senator Kamala Harris called out Biden for his record on busing during the first debate.
JETER-JONES: Honestly, I was sort of leaning her way. And when she said that, I said, no. She shouldn't have done him like that.
KHALID: Biden loyalists have a deep reservoir of forgiveness. Jalon Roberson, a 22-year-old college student, even gave a positive spin on how Biden defends his record on criminal justice in the 1990s.
JALON ROBERSON: There is a president right now who, like, refuses that he ever said anything wrong, you know? So the fact that you're open to take a hit like that in public and then not deny it but go ahead and try to fix it is, like, the most mature thing you can probably do as a politician right now.
KHALID: Of course, these are all voters who like Joe Biden, but a lot of Democratic voters remain undecided. And while his fans may be forgiving, his opponents on the next debate stage probably won't be.
Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.