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Biden, seen here at the town hall, quickly sought to recover from the comment.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times News Service

Former Vice President Joe Biden raised eyebrows Thursday during a speech in Iowa when he said that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” an apparent gaffe for a Democratic presidential candidate whose record on race has come under intense scrutiny during the primary.

Biden was speaking on education and the need to challenge students at a town hall hosted by the Asian & Latino Coalition in Des Moines when he made the remark, and then quickly sought to recover from it.

“We should challenge students in these schools,” Biden said. “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.”

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He paused, then added: “Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids – no I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”

Although the host group was made up of Asian and Latino activists, the crowd that Biden was addressing Thursday was largely white.

The comments, which were captured on video and were part of a lengthy speech, were quickly circulated by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and other critics of the former vice president.

In a statement Friday, Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said Trump’s campaign was seeking to turn attention away from the president’s “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. “Joe Biden has spent his life fighting for civil rights and the dignity of all people.”

Still, the verbal slip-up by Biden, 76, comes as his record on race has become a central focus of the early months of the Democratic primary.

Biden apologized after facing days of criticism for having highlighted his ability to work with segregationist senators in the 1970s and 1980s. At the first Democratic debates in June, Sen. Kamala Harris of California confronted Biden about his opposition to integrating schools through busing. And when Biden released a criminal-justice plan last month that would seek to address mass incarceration and undo other aspects of the 1994 crime bill he championed, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey labelled Biden “the proud architect of a failed system.”

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Biden is among the more than 20 Democratic presidential candidates who have descended on – or soon plan to arrive at – the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Attendance is all but mandatory, given that Iowa will be the first state to vote in 2020.

A poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers released Thursday had Biden in the lead with 28 per cent support. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts finished next with 19 per cent support, followed by Harris with 11 per cent and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont with 9 per cent.

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