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Biden, Trump campaigns clash over race after Dem frontrunner says 'poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids'

Key Points
  • Joe Biden is taking heat from the Trump campaign after the former vice president said "poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids."
  • It's the latest spat over race between the two leading contenders in the 2020 contest.
  • Biden quickly corrected his comments, a campaign aide says, adding that Trump "is desperate to change the subject from his atrocious record of using racism to divide this country."
Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden delivers a campaign speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair on August 08, 2019 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

President Donald Trump and his campaign slammed Joe Biden after the former vice president said "poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," in the latest spat over race between the two leading contenders in the 2020 contest.

Biden made the remarks while discussing the issue of discrimination against low-income students during a campaign speech in Iowa on Thursday.

"The other thing we should do is we should challenge these students. We should challenge students in these schools that have advanced placement programs in the schools. We have this notion that somehow if you're poor you cannot do it," Biden said.

"Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids," Biden added. After a beat, he corrected himself, adding: "Wealthy kids. Black kids. Asian kids."

Biden's campaign said that former President Barack Obama's veep simply misspoke. But the Trump campaign pounced on the comments.

"This is not a gaffe. This is part of a pattern," read one email from Trump's campaign, which also dredged up a 2007 Washington Post article saying Biden "stumbled through a discourse" about race and education.

A Trump campaign account tweeted a section of Biden's comments without his correction, seconds later.

"Yikes...have fun mitigating that one," said Andrew Clark, the Trump campaign's "Rapid Response" director. Trump's senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, also sniped at Biden, tweeting that his remark "sounds racist."

In a statement sent Friday, Biden's campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told NBC News that Trump "is desperate to change the subject from his atrocious record of using racism to divide this country."

"Vice President Biden misspoke and immediately corrected himself during a refrain he often uses to make the point that all children deserve a fair shot, and children born into lower-income circumstances are just as smart as those born to wealthy parents," Bedingfield said.

She added that "the Trump campaign posting the video without the Vice President's immediate correction is patently disingenuous — and it's no coincidence this comes days after Joe Biden laid out how this president emboldens white nationalism and embraces racism, and hours after one of Trump's Breitbart lackeys confronted him in an attempt to gaslight about his response to Charlottesville."

Biden has maintained a steady lead in the polls over his Democratic rivals, though recent state polls in Iowa and Nevada show Sen. Elizabeth Warren surging. Biden has also held more support among African Americans than the rest of the 2020 field, including Trump, polls show.

Trump has long been under fire from his critics, including most of the two dozen Democrats running for president, about his record on race and his incendiary political rhetoric.

He has been accused of fomenting racial unrest by, for example, calling Mexican immigrants "rapists" in his 2015 campaign kickoff speech and describing an influx of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border as an "invasion."

Those complaints intensified over the weekend, when mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, left 31 dead and dozens injured over the span of less than a day. The El Paso shooter, a white male, apparently posted a racist screed on an anonymous online messaging board shortly before his attack began. The Dayton shooter, also a white male, reportedly made social media posts indicating leftist politics. The police in Dayton have not determined a motive for that attack.

Democrats including 2020 presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who is from El Paso, called Trump a "white supremacist" and said his rhetoric was at least in part to blame for the violence.

A day before he made his comments on race, Biden delivered a blistering speech claiming Trump has "poured fuel on the fire" of white supremacy in America.

"Indeed, we have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division. So it's up to us," Biden said in that speech.

But Biden has also faced criticism about his own record on race. Sen. Kamala Harris scored the heaviest blow against Biden at the first Democratic debate, when she slammed his prior comments about his past working relationship with two segregationist lawmakers as "hurtful."

Biden called that attack "a mischaracterization of my position across the board."

Trump has called himself "the least racist person there is," and asserted in a recent tweet that Democrats' accusations of racism are merely a political weapon.

"The Dems new weapon is actually their old weapon, one which they never cease to use when they are down, or run out of facts, RACISM!" Trump tweeted.

On Friday, Trump told reporters at the White House that "Joe Biden is not playing with a full deck. This is not somebody you can have as your president."

A Biden campaign told NBC in response: "Donald Trump's deck is all jokers."

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