The Note: 2020 race testing Joe Biden at sore spots

PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor Peoples Campaign, June 17, 2019, at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC.PlayAlex Wong/Getty Images
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The candidate least interested in engaging with his rivals is seeing them come at him -- from virtually every conceivable direction.

With the first debate of the 2020 cycle less than a week away, former Vice President Joe Biden is in the midst of a critical window for his candidacy. His rivals are newly motivated to make sure he's tested along the way.

PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor Peoples Campaign, June 17, 2019, at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images
Former Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Moral Action Congress of the Poor People's Campaign, June 17, 2019, at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC.

Both world and campaign events will put Biden and his long record in the spotlight, placing him in the middle of a series of uncomfortable conversations inside the Democratic Party that he wants to lead.

President Donald Trump is trying to work through a potential confrontation with Iran. Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations chairman, played a key role in the Iran nuclear deal, and his vote for the Iraq War has drawn criticism from rivals.

This weekend in South Carolina, a series of multi-candidate forums -- Rep. James Clyburn's fish fry, the state Democratic Party convention and a Planned Parenthood dinner -- seem almost designed to force Biden to confront awkward campaign moments.

Biden has already had to be explicit at times to say that he gets how times have changed. His rivals will soon be in a position make him show it.

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It won't be a jovial meal by any stretch at the "World Famous Fish Fry." Attendees, with their forks and knives out, will be watching one another's every (mis)step with hungry eyes. They'll be focused, especially, on Biden -- seen right now as the one to beat -- and some of those eyes may be narrowed for what he's said this week.

PHOTO: Supporters wave signs, as they dance and sing while they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to arrive at the Jim Clyburn Fish Fry, Jan. 16, 2016, at the Charleston Visitor Center in Charleston, S.C. Stephen B. Morton/AP, FILE
Supporters wave signs, as they dance and sing while they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to arrive at the Jim Clyburn Fish Fry, Jan. 16, 2016, at the Charleston Visitor Center in Charleston, S.C.

Biden has stood by his remarks, as have his allies, including the very host of this weekend's fried fete: House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the highest-ranking African American member of leadership. Over on the other side are two of Biden's fellow 2020ers -- who also happen to be African American. They're speaking out, just as they're all about to convene in an early primary state crucial to securing the black vote.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the Poor Peoples Moral Action Congress presidential forum in Washington, June 17, 2019. Susan Walsh/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the Poor People's Moral Action Congress presidential forum in Washington, June 17, 2019.

Sen. Cory Booker has fired back in the latest of several contentious volleys between the two presidential contenders. Booker spent the better part of a cable TV appearance Wednesday night lambasting Biden for his remarks; later that evening, ABC News learned, Biden gave Booker a call to smooth things over. Booker's team told ABC News that he shared with the former vice president why his words had felt so painful and that he believes Biden should take responsibility and apologize to those who were hurt.

Sen. Kamala Harris, too -- who just Thursday said she may want to speak to Biden about his comments next week in Miami -- said that she thinks they were "misplaced, and frankly, misinformed."

As temperatures and tensions run high, watch for a debate dynamic dinner teaser.

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Clyburn's fish fry has been a must-attend event in South Carolina since 1992. Skipping it is widely considered a faux pas in southern politics. It's more offensive, however, if you don't take the food that's offered -- even if you don't eat the entire meal.

The 22 presidential candidates who are planning to attend will be given a chance to talk, take selfies and do the "Electric Slide" with attendees. There will be 4,400 pounds of fish, 6,400 slices of bread and nothing else, a source close to Clyburn confirms to ABC News.

The limited options at the fish fry will create a difficult decision for at least two of the candidates: Booker is a vegan and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a vegetarian. They'll probably skip the fish and stick with the bread, though it's unclear if it's vegan.

PHOTO: Cory Booker, left, and Tulsi Gabbard Getty Images, FILE
Cory Booker, left, and Tulsi Gabbard

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Friday morning's episode features ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz as tensions between the U.S. and Iran reach a boiling point. Then ABC News Supreme Court Contributor Kate Shaw tells us about the justices' ruling on a First Amendment challenge over a memorial cross and the outstanding cases that we expect to hear about before the end of the term. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "The Investigation" podcast. In a special bonus episode of "The Investigation," co-host Chris Vlasto and Matt Mosk, an ABC News senior reporter, interview ABC News Chief National Affairs Correspondent Tom Llamas about his groundbreaking investigation into Hunter Biden's business dealings in Ukraine and China during his father's tenure as vice president. Llamas, who traveled to Ukraine and interviewed former government officials and politicians, later approaches the former vice president on the campaign trail, asking him "Was there a clear conflict of interest?" https://apple.co/2GjL25N

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND

  • President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump will participate in the Congressional picnic on the South Lawn of the White House at 5:45 p.m.
  • Eight 2020 presidential candidates will attend the 36th annual National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Miami, including South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., beginning at 8 a.m.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., holds a meet-and-greet event at 4 p.m. in Columbia, South Carolina, ahead of the state Democratic Party Convention.
  • Montana Gov. Steve Bullock travels to New Hampshire to attend the Market Days Festival in Concord at 4:30 p.m., followed by a meet-and-greet event at 6:30 p.m.
  • Buttigieg holds a meeting with local leaders in Florence, South Carolina, at 4:30 p.m. ahead of the South Carolina Democratic Party Convention.
  • The 2019 South Carolina Democratic Party Convention kicks off Friday with events over the weekend, including the Blue Palmetto Dinner and "Jim Clyburn's World Famous Fish Fry." The Planned Parenthood Action Fund holds a concurrent event with the convention on Saturday. The "We Decide: 2020 Election Membership Forum" will be held in Columbia, South Carolina. Twenty-two Democratic presidential candidates are expected to participate in events throughout the state, including Sen. Michael Bennet, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Mayor Bill de Blasio, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former Rep. John Delaney, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, Rep. Seth Moulton, former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, Rep. Tim Ryan, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Eric Swalwell, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.
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