DES MOINES — A regular visitor to Iowa during the months preceding the February presidential caucuses, Joe Biden made Democrats here wait until almost the final moment of the 2020 campaign to see him again.
Time soon will tell whether the trip was worth Biden’s effort. But on Friday, four days before Election Day, the former vice president thrilled hundreds of supporters with a drive-in-style campaign rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, is locked in a close race in Iowa with Republican President Donald Trump, according to numerous polls. National polling, and polling in other critical swing states, suggest Biden is in a good position to defeat Trump.
“I did not have a last-minute visit from Joe Biden on my crazy 2020 bingo card,” Sean Bagniewski, the chairman of the Polk County Democrats, said Friday before Biden’s remarks. “But it shows how close Iowa is.”
The rally was held drive-in style for more than 300 vehicles in the fairgrounds’ large parking lot. Those who attended watched from their vehicles, and Biden’s remarks were blasted over speakers and shortwave radio.
“In 2008 and 2012, you placed your trust in Barack Obama and me, and we worked for you, for the entire country,” Biden told the crowd. “Well, I’ll do it again in 2020.”
Biden, who also had events scheduled Friday in Minnesota and Wisconsin, reiterated his campaign pledge to serve as a president that represents the entire country, not just those who vote for him. He said his campaign welcomes a broad spectrum of political ideologies.
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“I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president,” Biden said. “I will work as hard for those who don’t support me as (for) those who do. In my administration, there will be no red states or blue states, just the United States of America.
“Folks, I mean this from the bottom of my heart — that’s the job of a president, a duty to care for everyone, to heal.”
Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who is in a tight race for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat against incumbent Joni Ernst, also spoke during the program and to reporters.
“We’re thrilled that the vice president has stopped by Iowa. It clearly shows that it’s a battleground state, and it’s one we can win and we can flip,” Greenfield said. “And of course when we take back the presidency, we’ll win this U.S. Senate seat, and we’ll flip the majority in the United States Senate.”
Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, told reporters earlier Friday that he felt compelled to formally welcome the former vice president back to Iowa, saying it had been 271 days since Biden was in the state.
“They’re ignoring the Heartland,” Kaufmann said of the Biden campaign. “They’re not visiting until the very last second. We’re going to prove that it is too little, too late.”
Trump won Iowa by nearly 10 points four years ago, but this year he is running neck-and-neck with Biden. FiveThirtyEight.com’s average of polling on the race in Iowa shows the candidates within 0.3 percent of each other.
Perhaps motivated by those polling numbers, the presidential candidates have suddenly shown interest in Iowa after skipping it the entire summer.
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In addition Biden’s visit, Trump made his first general election campaign stop in Iowa two weeks ago.
Vice President Mike Pence has been a more frequent campaign visitor to Iowa, including an event Thursday in Des Moines.
Terry Branstad, the former Iowa governor and U.S. ambassador to China, said he is concerned about the future of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses if Biden is elected, suggesting Biden does not like Iowa because of his fourth-place finish in this year’s caucuses.
“The Iowa caucuses will be history if Biden gets elected president,” Branstad charged.
Trump has pledged to preserve Iowa’s first-in-the-nation spot.
Regardless, Kaufmann said the immediate focus for Iowa Republicans is “the harm that (Biden) could potentially cause if he were to be successful (in this election).”
During his remarks, Biden talked about the COVID-19 pandemic, pledged to raise taxes only on those making $400,000 per year or more, and promised to preserve the federal Affordable Care Act health care law and expand it with a Medicare-like public option.
He also touched on agriculture policy, the U.S. military, social justice, and climate change.
Carol Meyer, a 63-year-old retiree from Mason City who attended the Biden rally, said she is “optimistic” but “not confident” in Biden’s prospects in Iowa. She was similarly hesitant about Biden’s prospects overall against Trump.
“I don’t want to be overconfident,” Meyer said. “We have to work until the last minute.”
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Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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