Could Joe Biden’s fiery Jersey speech ripping Trump be a glimpse of a 2020 showdown?

Former Vice President Joe Biden gave New Jereyans a (sometimes loud) taste Wednesday of what his speeches might sound like if he challenges President Donald Trump in two years. 

Shouting at points during a nearly 40-minute address, Biden tore into Trump’s handling of America during a campaign appearance at Montclair State University for Democratic congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill.

He admonished Trump’s fellow Republicans who lead Congress for staying “silent.”

And he said states like New Jersey could be key in helping Democrats win back control of at least the U.S. House of Representatives this November amid what he dubbed “a battle for the soul of America.”

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired about what’s going on in this country today,” said Biden, who’s considered a potential Democratic challenger to Trump in the 2020 presidential election. “This is not who we are. This is not the America I know.”

“We are a generous people. We are an honorable people. We are an inclusive people,” he added, without ever mentioning Trump by name. “That’s who we are.”

Biden didn’t focus much specifically on Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor who is running in a key battleground race against Republican state Assemblyman Jay Webber. The candidates are fighting over the seat being vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in north Jersey’s 11th congressional district. 

But Biden stressed that November’s midterms are “the most important election any of us have voted in thus far.”

“If we don’t build up a bulwark against the erosion of our American values by winning back Congress, God forbid what happens in 2020,” he said. 

“We desperately need, in both parties, men and women of character,” Biden added. “Mikie gets it.”

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The midterm races are being viewed as a referendum on Trump, and New Jersey — where polls show the president is deeply unpopular — is critical to Democrats’ efforts to flip the 23 seats they need to take back the House.

The Sherrill vs. Webber battle is for one of four Republican-held seats in New Jersey in the state. Frelignhuysen has held the seat since 1995 but announced his retirement in January, as it appeared his re-election would suddenly be a challenge amid the anti-Trump sentiment in the Garden State.

After opening his speech Wednesday with the attack on Trump, Biden’s tone became much more hushed. The usually bombastic politician from Delaware almost sounded like he was whispering for a stretch.

But by the end, the Biden of old returned. He said while Republicans in Congress helped pushed then-President Richard Nixon out of the White House, much of the current Republican-led Congress today is afraid of standing up to Trump.

“What has become of us? My Republican colleagues know better, but they’re silent,” Biden said, raising his voice. “Where are they?”

Gov. Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat, had a similar message at the rally, saying the U.S. needs “leaders with steel in their spines.”

“We need leaders who talk with us one on one and don’t tweet at us,” Murphy said in an apparent reference to Trump. 

Murphy also linked Webber, R-Morris, to former Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican whom Murphy succeeded in January.

The governor said Webber was “handpicked” by Christie to be New Jersey’s Republican Party chairman from 2009-11 and was a “solid yes man for the Christie agenda that wrecked our state.”

“The nation’s eyes are on us because we are on the cusp of doing something special,” Murphy added. “Right now, New Jersey is the most important state in the United States. If we are going to take the nation back from Donald Trump and his enablers, the wave will start here in Montclair.”

Biden didn’t mention Webber by name but argued: “We can’t afford another Trump acolyte in the House.”

In her own remarks, Sherrill said Americans “have a duty now.”

“To fight for what we know is true, to fight for what our country stands for,” she said.

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Webber’s team said Tuesday that Biden’s appearance shows Sherrill is “a professional politician” who is “beholden to Democrat Party bosses.”

“Make no mistake, you will continue to see Democrat party elites campaigning for Mikie up until Election Day, because they are fighting to send someone to Congress who will support their liberal platform that includes trillions of dollars in new taxes, and that is weak on Syria, Iran, and Israel,” Webber spokesperson Ronica Cleary said in a statement.

“With no voting record or proof to back the promises she makes, we must look to the company Mikie keeps, and that company is decidedly out of touch with New Jersey’s 11th congressional district,” Cleary added.

Biden’s appearance came just weeks after current Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Springfield for a low-profile, private fundraiser for Webber. 

That event was behind closed doors, with the minimum ticket price at $1,000 — though Pence did make an unscheduled stop at the Florham Park Diner. 

So far, Sherrill has been the slight favorite. The Cook Political Report rates the race “lean Democratic.” And a Monmouth University poll from June 27 showed Sherill leading Webber 40 to 38 percentage points among potential voters/

Sherrill also led fundraising as of July, which she entered with $2.9 million to spend, compared to Webber’s $171,720.

This was hardly Biden’s first trip to New Jersey. Last year alone, he stumped twice for Murphy is his successful race to succeed Christie. 

NJ Advance Media staff writer Jonathan D. Salant contributed to this report.

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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