IOWA CITY — The last time Joe Biden ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, he barely registered in the Iowa caucuses, placing fifth behind Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson with a 0.9 percent share of Iowans’ support.
Twelve years later, his prospects look much brighter.
The former vice president was the front-runner before he formally entered the race last week, and recent polling has shown Biden to be widening his lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the 19 other candidates. Polls by CNN, Quinnipiac and Morning Consult have Biden leading at 39 percent, 38 percent and 36 percent, respectively. Polling also shows Biden is the second choice of Democrats backing Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Sanders is the second choice of Biden backers.
However, it’s a long time until the caucuses — 277 days, said Patty Mishler of Iowa City, who was wearing a “Make America Kind Again” pin. Biden “touches a lot of hearts … he’s lived a lot and survived,” she said, but Mishler plans to hear as many candidates as possible before committing to backing one on caucus night Feb. 3.
Despite a shout-out from Biden at the beginning of his rally Wednesday at Big Grove Brewery & Taproom in Iowa City, former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky of Coralville said she still plans to remain neutral deep into the caucus campaign.
“Biden has to answer the same question Eric Swalwell and Kamala Harris and the others have to answer: Why you?” Dvorsky said.
Biden tried Wednesday, laying out a commitment to rebuild the middle class — the people he said built the nation but aren’t sharing in the economic success of President Donald Trump’s America.
“We’ve got to defeat Donald Trump in 2020,” Biden said. “The stakes are too high. The backbone of America, hardworking middle class people, are being crushed. They’re in real, real trouble.”
He made clear whose side he will be on as president.
“It wasn’t CEOs, Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers who built America,” he said with more enthusiasm than when he delivered the same stump speech Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, telling the crowd it was unions that built the middle class.
He didn’t have to convince former state Rep. Dick Myers of Iowa City. He’s backing Biden because he believes Biden can deliver on his promises to provide health care coverage to everyone, make education affordable and restore America’s reputation around the world.
“He knows the business of government,” Myers said, referring to the experience Biden has gained since first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972. “He understands the country.
“That’s sorely missing” in Trump, Myers said. “He doesn’t understand the job.”
Although he didn’t support Biden in previous races for the Democratic nomination, Myers respected him and now sees Biden as the most electable Democrat.
Health care is uppermost in the mind of Amber Miller, a North Liberty nurse and mother of two, who agreed with Biden that health care is a right, not a privilege.
“I see what’s going on,” she said. “It’s important that everyone is covered. No more bankruptcies because of health care costs.”
However, the challenge for her is finding a candidate whose policies also make sense for her 23-year-old sister.
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“We need someone who can be a candidate for two generations,” Miller said. She’s not sure that’s the 76-year-old Biden. “But he’s here today and talking to us.”
Biden, who also campaigned Tuesday in Dubuque, wrapped up his first campaign swing through Iowa with a rally Wednesday in Des Moines.
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