Staff Columnist

Joe Biden says isn't worried about Iowa, despite all the slipping and sliding

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Finkenauer Fish Fry at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Finkenauer Fish Fry at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Depending on which poll you believe, Joe Biden’s is either spinning his wheels or sliding toward the ditch in Iowa. The former vice president insists he’s not worried.

“Well, look. You know Iowa better than I do,” Biden told me during an interview last weekend in a small office at Hawkeye Downs, where he appeared at U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s fish fry.

Fact check: True. Probably.

But, please, go on.

“This is a typical Iowa caucus. A front-runner for the first six months gets the living devil kicked out of him and everything thrown at him. Which is OK by the way, not a bad thing. And then things tighten up, and all the folks coming up, all of the sudden, they start getting looked at closely,” Biden said, his staff intently looming.

But Iowans know Biden. This is his third caucus campaign. He served as vice president for eight years. And yet, roughly 80 percent of Iowa Democrats are backing somebody else.

Biden said he doesn’t believe Iowans, in the end, will support a “$30 trillion” plan to provide Medicare for all, although some Iowa polls show Biden trailing the two biggest proponents of Medicare for all, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He said his campaign’s internal polling shows voters like his foreign policy experience.

“A lot of Iowans who are voting for the first time weren’t around when I tried to get the nomination 15 years ago or when I was even vice president,” Biden said.

Of course, anyone not around 15 years ago will not be voting in 2020. But it is true my older daughter, who will caucus for the first time in February, was not paying close attention to politics in 2007. She was, however, a strong Elmo supporter.

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Younger voters are paying attention now, and they’re looking past Biden for a bolder vision and new voices. My daughter came along to the fish fry and the interview, and was thrilled to meet Biden. But she’s been making calls for Kamala Harris. Her friends are volunteering for Pete Buttigieg and Warren.

At the party’s Liberty and Justice gathering Friday, Warren, who leads in Iowa, took aim at more moderate candidates who “dream small” and won’t fight for big change. Biden bristled.

“Suggesting to anyone who disagrees with her that they don’t have courage, I think that was the phrase used,” Biden said. “This is someone who has never passed anything in the United States Congress of any consequence as a U.S. senator. That’s not how you get anything done.

“Look, what I proposed is as bold or as visionary as what she’s proposed. I know what it takes to get something like this passed,” said Biden, who would add a public option to the Affordable Care Act.

You can’t count Biden out. He’s more popular with older voters who usually decide this thing. And many Democrats may get nervous as February nears. Bold could backfire! Young could be dicey! Biden, touting polls showing him beating President Donald Trump by wider margins than his rivals, will welcome the skittish and dithering.

But is playing it safe really the best way to beat President Running with Scissors? A lot of Iowa Democrats are in no mood for old school moderation as they turn to face the king of chaos in mortal combat. And I know Iowa. Just ask Joe.

(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazettecom

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