Biden’s bid touts faith, courts even religious conservatives

FILE - In this Monday, June 1, 2020, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the clergy and community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del. Democrats are betting on Bidens evident comfort with faith as a powerful point of contrast in his battle against President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - In this Monday, June 1, 2020, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to members of the clergy and community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del. Democrats are betting on Bidens evident comfort with faith as a powerful point of contrast in his battle against President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

President Donald Trump’s appeal to religious conservatives is a cornerstone of his political identity. But Joe Biden is a different kind of foe than Trump has faced before: one who makes faith a central part of his persona — often literally wearing it on his sleeve.

In fact, Biden’s practice of carrying a rosary that belonged to his late son Beau caught the attention of one of his Democratic presidential rivals when the two were awaiting a debate last year. Standing backstage next to Biden, Pete Buttigieg asked the lifelong Catholic about the prayer beads and fell into a conversation about loss, family and faith.

Biden “often talks about the comfort and meaning that he’s drawn from faith,” said Buttigieg, Biden’s primary rival-turned-endorser. “That’s something that will resonate with Americans a lot more than usual.”

Democrats are betting on Biden’s evident comfort with faith as a powerful point of contrast with Trump. The faith-focused work underway within Biden’s campaign suggests that, while he may not significantly undercut the president’s popularity among white evangelicals, he could chip away at Trump’s base by appealing to pockets of conservative faithful.

Biden’s identity as “a very devout Catholic and person of deep faith,” deputy political director John McCarthy said, is “baked into the core messaging and core functions of the campaign.”

Biden has framed his presidential bid as a fight for “the soul of the nation,” a subtle invocation of the Catholic beliefs that have guided his life. His campaign has released three digital ads focused on faith, including one crediting his religious practices with instilling a “sense of solace.”

It’s a notable contrast with Hillary Clinton, who lost in 2016 after a campaign that largely sidelined her Methodist faith.

As Trump promises to be evangelicals’ “champion” on policy, Biden is making a less transactional play for religious support, betting that a beliefs-focused brand will be more persuasive than agreement on an agenda.