WASHINGTON -- Joe Biden confronted the daunting task Wednesday of uniting and energizing a party that has been through a long, divisive primary, and is now distracted by the fears and daily challenges of a global pandemic and world economic collapse.
With Sen. Bernie Sanders' decision to drop out of the race, Biden is seeking to win over his rival's loyal band of progressive supporters, many of whom lack enthusiasm for the former vice president and his establishment brand of politics.
As the presumptive nominee, Biden is likely to enjoy a fundraising boost and the benefit of the Democratic Party devoting its full efforts to his campaign to beat President Donald Trump in the fall.
"It's time to come together and unite around our presumptive nominee," Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez said Wednesday.
Biden is free to ramp up his search for a running mate, which he had begun quietly in deference to Sanders when he was still in the race.
Biden issued a statement Wednesday that praised the Vermont senator's leadership and welcomed his followers to his camp, and invoked Sanders' campaign slogan.
"I'll be reaching out to you. You will be heard by me. As you say: Not me, Us," Biden said.
Progressives say Biden will have to do far more -- by way of policy, personnel and choice of vice president -- to broaden his support on the left, especially among young people.
"They are looking for something more than just, 'We have to stop Trump,'" said Ben Wessel, executive director of NextGen America, a progressive super PAC that is on track to register 300,000 young voters in 11 battleground states this election cycle. "He has to recognize the new reality we are in right now, especially with coronavirus. We have a bunch of young people feeling like their economic future is completely screwed."
Sanders' withdrawal from the race was a signal moment in Biden's decadeslong career in politics. He outlasted a huge field of mostly younger rivals for the Democratic nomination, to finally achieve a goal that has long eluded him.