Joe Biden's History of Racial Gaffes

Once boasted he could appeal to southerners because Delaware was a 'slave state'

August 12, 2019

Former vice president Joe Biden committed another one of his signature gaffes last week, conflating being a person of color with automatically being poor.

"We have this notion that somehow if you're poor you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," he said, before quickly adding, "Wealthy kids. Black kids. Asian kids."

Biden's well-known propensity for putting his foot in his mouth is beginning to concern Democrats and some corners of the media. The 2020 Democratic frontrunner enjoys his perch in the polls for a reason: He wins among voters who think he has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in 2020.

Biden has a history of racially insensitive remarks, and whether that will cost him in his third attempt for the Democratic presidential nomination remains to be seen.

His history on race has already caused him a headache this cycle. In June, he took fire from fellow 2020 candidates after fondly recalling the civility of the Senate when he worked alongside segregationists. His point was he had to find ways to work with people with whom he strongly disagreed, but speaking in a positive fashion about Mississippi senator James O. Eastland and Georgia senator Herman Talmadge was a mistake in the present climate.

When told he should apologize by Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), he snapped back that Booker should be the one apologizing. He later did apologize, however.

In 2006, in the run-up to his short-lived 2008 presidential bid, Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Biden how he would compete in the south when hailing from a northern blue state. Biden responded by touting the fact that Delaware was a "slave state."

"What kind of a chance would a northeastern liberal like Joe Biden stand in the south if you were running in Democratic primaries against southerners like Mark Warner and John Edwards?" Wallace asked.

"Better than anybody else," Biden replied. "And you don't know my state. My state was a slave state. My state is a border state. My state is the eighth-largest black population in the country. My state is anything from a northeast, liberal state."

Biden also discussed Delaware's "slave state" past while speaking in South Carolina to the Columbia Rotary Club that year. He joked Delaware would have fought for the Confederacy if not for other states being "in the way."

Delaware "was a slave state that fought beside the North," he said. "That's only because we couldn't figure out how to get to the South. There were a couple of states in the way."

That same year, Biden had to explain why he told a voter that, "in Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent."

A spokesman said he meant to explain positively that Delaware had become a go-to place for Indian-Americans to live and work.

He didn't always avoid mistakes when talking about the man most responsible for his popularity with Democrats: Barack Obama. Talking about his future running mate in 2007, he said Obama was the "first sort of mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Once he was the vice president, Biden kept it going. In 2012, Biden offended Republicans when he said the ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were going to "put ya'll back in chains," and in 2014, he referred to one expert as the "wisest man in the Orient." In 2015, he was criticized after discussing Somali-Americans living in Delaware and how there were an "awful lot driving cabs."

Biden still enjoys significant support from African-American voters, one of the reasons he still leads the 2020 pack in national polling.