Vice President Joe Biden was given a thunderous reception as the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner on Saturday — particularly after the audience urged him to take a shot at a presidential run.
Biden was interrupted early in his speech before hundreds of gay-rights activists, celebrities, and business leaders assembled in a cavernous, spotlight-studded convention center in Washington, D.C. “A number of you have said to me over the last three or four years — ” he began.
But he was suddenly cut off. “You should run!” one audience member shouted. “Yeah, you should run!” another chimed in from across the room.
“No, they didn’t say that!” Biden laughed. “Oh, anyway. What was I saying?” he continued, as the audience cheered and applauded and the vice president grinned sheepishly.
#share#But though dignitaries from the nation’s premier gay-rights group were happy to encourage Biden’s continued flirtation with a White House run, it’s not clear if the vice president can chip away at Hillary Clinton’s powerful support base in the gay community.
Clinton and Biden both addressed the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday — though Clinton spoke to a smaller group of delegates in the morning, turning down the keynote invitation so she could appear on Saturday Night Live that evening.
Both politicians checked the necessary boxes, praising the victory won on gay marriage before the Supreme Court this June while warning that there is more work to be done, particularly on anti-discrimination laws. And they also both took potshots at the other side. “There’s homophobes still left. Most of them are running for president, I think,” Biden said.
Biden made waves in 2012 by coming out in support of same-sex marriage before President Obama. Clinton took another year to make the shift.
The overwhelmingly liberal delegates in attendance made it clear they liked both Democratic politicians very much. “I think either of them would be a very good president,” says Susanne, a D.C.-based delegate for the Human Rights Campaign. “I think Biden has been a very good long-term . . . he’s been pro-gay for a while. And I have a feeling Hillary is a lot more pro-gay than she’s admitted.”
Susanne was referring to Clinton’s slowness in supporting gay marriage relative to Biden, who made waves in 2012 by coming out in support of the policy before President Obama. Clinton took another year to make the shift, a fact that some suggested lends Biden more credibility on that issue.
But most delegates on Saturday rejected the idea that Biden’s early stand for gay marriage lends him a particular pull with the gay community — including Biden himself. “I’ve been thanked for speaking, apparently out of turn, on Meet the Press [in 2012],” he said. “But the speed with which things have changed from 2012 to today for marriage equality . . . is not because of any national figure that spoke out. Not because of any of the celebrities that we’ll have stand before you tonight. It’s because of all of you.”
#related#In fact, though many of the delegates expressed admiration for the vice president, they were firm in their commitment to Clinton’s candidacy. “Joe’s a great guy, and he’s definitely supported our causes,” says Barry Robertson, who serves on the Human Rights Campaign board of governors. “But I think Hillary is the one who’s going to make the biggest difference.”
“I’m supporting Hillary,” says diversity lawyer Robin Leeds, adding that her loyalty won’t shift if Biden jumps in the race. “I have basically fought my entire life in the women’s-rights movement,” she says. “Before I die, I want to see a woman president.”
And even in the extremely liberal crowd, there were a few who questioned whether either Clinton or Biden deserved their vote. “That is a rough line-up to choose between – I almost can’t answer,” says Jeff Elder, an employee at corporate sponsor Accenture and a gay man who describes himself as a fiscal conservative. “I’m not a single-issue voter,” he explains.
— Brendan Bordelon is a political reporter for National Review.