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Joe Biden wins some early congressional support, but former colleagues see challenges ahead

Rep. Cedric Richmond makes the case for Biden, but House Majority Whip James Clyburn says there’s a lot of race left to run.

Joe Biden Speaks To Striking Stop & Shop Workers In Massachusetts
Joe Biden speaks to striking workers in Massachusetts.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

House Judiciary Committee member and former Congressional Black Caucus chair Cedric Richmond made an enthusiastic case for Joe Biden Sunday as the candidate’s rivals addressed concerns some voters have with the former vice president.

After months of speculation, Biden entered a crowded Democratic presidential primary field last week. Perceived to be one of the primary’s frontrunners, the former vice president was found to lead his rivals in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows Biden has a slight advantage over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Many Democratic voters — 54 percent — that took part in the poll said they have not yet committed to any one of the 20 Democrats running for president.

However, Richmond has, and he made an enthusiastic electability case for Biden on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday, arguing Biden is the best person to guide Americans struggling in a country “we no longer recognize.”

“One thing I learned in politics very early, you can’t govern if you can’t win,” Richmond said. “I think Joe Biden is, one, the best person to represent the Democratic Party, but I think he’s the best person to win.”

At least some voters seem to believe as Richmond does — Biden announced his candidacy Thursday and quickly raised $6.3 million on his first day. His fundraising ability, name recognition, and ties to Barack Obama have him seen as a favorite in the South Carolina primary, an early Democratic contest in which black voters play a large role.

In speaking with ABC’s This Week, House Majority Whip James Clyburn acknowledged Biden’s lead, but cautioned it’s still early in the race. Clyburn noted other candidates, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), are also making inroads in the South. Clyburn emphasized that any Democratic candidate needs to appeal to rural, black voters if they intend to win.

“I have been saying forever that Democrats are going to have to improve our status among rural voters because we have to remember, over 50 percent of African Americans in this country still live in the South,” Clyburn said. “And the South is basically rural. And, if you’re going to win, you’re going to have to energize that vote.”

Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, who also announced his presidential run last week, had some advice for Biden on Sunday as well: Apologize to Anita Hill.

Questions about Biden’s handling of Anita Hill’s testimony about sexual harassment in Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination hearings have dogged Biden’s rollout. Biden served as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Thomas hearings. He cut off the hearing before Hill’s witnesses could testify, and did little to defend Hill as she faced tough questioning from senators. Biden has reportedly called Hill to express “regret for what she endured” but stopped short of apologizing.

“I think she was treated terribly,” Moulton told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Joe Biden is a mentor and a friend of mine, he’s a great American, everybody makes mistakes, I do think that was a mistake though and I think he should apologize.”

Another Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), didn’t quite go that far Sunday, but did say the Hill testimony prompted her to write her senator, and that Hill inspired her to become a politician.

“I sent that letter and my senator ended up voting for Clarence Thomas, but it motivated me to get involved in politics, as it did so many other women,” she said. “And now we go from zero women in that committee to six.”

More recently, Biden has faced questions after several women said they felt uncomfortable with the way he touched them and. As with Anita Hill, Biden has yet to really apologize to those women, suggesting instead that he’s always touched people, but now he will try to stop as he believes social norms have changed.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham made it clear he doesn’t think Biden ought to be doing any apologizing on Face the Nation, but did wonder if Biden might be a man from the past in a Democratic Party that is increasingly diverse, increasingly female, and that is actively taking more progressive positions.

“Here’s the problem for Joe, does he fit into the Democratic Party of 2020?” Graham said. “I don’t know. He’s a good man, I like him a lot, I disagree with him on policy. I hope he doesn’t apologize for the life he’s led because he’s led a good life.”