CEDAR RAPIDS — The proverbial Labor Day gun has gone off to start the 2020 presidential campaign, and Joe Biden says he is comfortable with where his campaign stands.
Of course, the former Democratic vice president is atop most every public opinion poll. But Biden, who also ran for president during the 1988 and 2008 election cycles, knows the numbers are likely to change before the Feb. 3 first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.
“It’s a marathon, but I like where I am going into the fall after Labor Day, which is traditionally when the gun goes off,” he said during a recent interview. “We feel good. I’m not overconfident. Anything can happen, but I feel good.”
The 2020 campaign in Iowa he kicked off April 30 in Cedar Rapids has exceeded expectations, he said. He’ll soon have 70 to 75 full-time staffers in Iowa and similar operations in the early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
That’s important, Biden added, because Iowans “hold the key to the kingdom. If you can’t get out through Iowa, you can’t go any further.”
Q: You’ve been through presidential campaigns before. What’s the biggest difference this time?
A: “Everybody thinks they know me. They have a pretty clear view who I am — warts and all. I think people think they know me and they view me as the antithesis of Donald Trump in terms of almost everything.”
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Q: Does having been through this before help? Does being on the national scene for 40 years help in this campaign?
A: “One of the things to learn if you’re going to announce for the first time for office, no matter what your age is, that if you’re a senator or governor, no matter how good you are, you’re going to find out that only 10 or 12 percent of people know who you are. So it takes a long time to get known.”
Q: Part of the argument you’ve been making is that you are the most electable candidate in the Democratic field. What’s the basis of that?
A: “If the perfect presidential candidate had to have 10 attributes, none of us have more than five or six. I think that the benefit I have is the issues that are first and foremost are issues that have been in my wheelhouse my whole career — foreign policy, the idea of rebuilding the middle class in a way that brings everyone together, dealing with the purposeful division and racism and white supremacy that this president fosters and unifying the country. My generic point is not that Joe Biden is the only guy who can win. Look, anyone of the candidates who are left in the race or even some have dropped out would be a better president than Trump. I think voters are looking for who is ready on Day 1 (and) on Day 1 able to command the world stage.”
Q: Trump wasn’t expected to win in 2016, but he did. What’s different this time that makes you think you or any Democrat can unseat him?
A: “What the public is realizing is that instead of a $2 trillion tax cut that hasn’t done much at all, we could easily be spending, you know, $400 billion over the next four or five years making sure that we do something about climate change. Or the idea that we can spend $45 billion a year on Title I programs and get pre-K. There’s no longer debate whether or not if you have a kid in school at age 3, 4 and 5, they do exponentially better no matter what their background, no matter where they come from, whether it’s a poor household, wealthy household, no matter their background. There’s just a whole lot of things out there that this president has gotten so far over the edge on that he’s made people realize, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, why can’t we do this? Why can’t we do that?’”
Q: You’ve been called the Mitt Romney of the 2020 Democratic field — well liked, but lacking enthusiastic support.
A: “Look, here’s the thing. The only way I can judge is the way people respond, and you probably went around (at a recent Labor Day picnic), but I don’t know anybody in labor who wasn’t enthusiastic today. I show up on college campuses. I don’t see any lack of enthusiasm. I’ve not felt that lack of enthusiasm that people are talking about. It’s awful hard to conclude that your favorable rating is very high, but there’s no enthusiasm. That’s the first time ever heard that, that argument made. The other thing is we really haven’t had a debate yet. We have had three times of one-minute assertions people can make. We’re eventually going to get to the place where we’re going to be able to talk about the future and actually debate. But that’s a little way off. The field is going to have to be winnowed more before you get there. But I have not felt a lack of enthusiasm.”
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