The way Joe Biden and President Donald Trump sparred Tuesday during their separate trips to Iowa, one might think they already were in the midst of a general election campaign.
But it’s only June, and Election Day is more than a year away.
Biden kicked off his Southeast Iowa swing Tuesday afternoon in Ottumwa, a working-class town situated in a county that gave 57.5% of their vote to Trump in 2016. There he addressed a standing-room-only crowd.
After a brief interruption by an anti-abortion protestor (who followed him on campaign stops throughout the day), Biden began his remarks with acknowledgment of his absence from recent party events in California and Iowa that drew the majority of his Democratic challengers.
“It’s family, family, family,” Biden said of why he didn’t attend the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event Sunday. Instead, he was celebrating his daughter’s birthday and granddaughter’s high school graduation.
It didn’t take long for Barack Obama’s vice president to rail against Trump, who was on the opposite side of the state in Council Bluffs for an event at an ethanol plant there. He also was scheduled to attend a private Republican fundraiser in West Des Moines.
“It wasn’t planned this way, but as we used to say in business, my friend Donald Trump, President Trump, is in Iowa today,” Biden said. “I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event because Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China.”
Trump is “exacerbating” the threat posed by China’s economy, Biden said.
“If we do what we need to do at home, if we stand up for American interests and invest in our people, live our values and work together with our partners, we can out-compete China every single solitary day, and every other nation in the world,” said Biden.
Multiple news outlets quoted Trump Tuesday calling Biden a “failing” candidate who has “never gotten more than 1%” in the polls.
“Joe Biden is a dummy,” Trump said, according to the Des Moines Register.
To win Iowa in 2020, places like Wapello County, of which Ottumwa is the largest city, are an essential part of the map for Democrats hoping to win back places that voted for Obama but flipped to Trump last election cycle.
Today’s visit to Southeast Iowa marked the former vice president’s second trip to the state since launching his presidential campaign in May. From Ottumwa, Biden met voters in Mount Pleasant and Davenport. On Wednesday, he’ll be in Clinton.
Kaaren Rizor, 75, already had her heart set on Biden when she arrived at the Bridge View Center in Ottumwa.
“I respect a lot of the other people running, but I think it is important to beat [Trump],” said Rizor, a retired nurse from Ottumwa. “I don’t know that the others are going to have the support to do it. And I just feel like it’s important they choose someone who’s going to be able to run against Trump. At all costs, that’s most important.”
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa Poll released Saturday showed Biden leading the vast primary field. Twenty-four percent of Democratic caucus-goers surveyed said Biden was their first choice for president, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.
“He said exactly what I wanted to hear,” Rizor said. “Bringing back decency to the presidency is very important to me.”
Emily Silliman and Carolyn Shultz, however, were not as convinced after hearing Biden in Mount Pleasant.
Silliman, a 21-year-old student at the University of Iowa, said Biden “didn’t really inspire me.”
“Honestly, it just feels like he’s coasting, and there’s so many other good candidates,” she said, pointing to entrepreneur Andrew Yang as one of her standouts.
Shultz, Silliman’s mother, said she was unlikely to vote for Biden in the caucuses, but felt he “comes from a very, very genuine place. He really does care.”
For Shultz, Sen. Warren was a favorite because of her many policy proposals.
Biden spent much of his remarks today on restoring the nation’s “core values” and the “threat” they face from Trump.
“This is really dangerous stuff and it’s not easy,” he said in Ottumwa. “He’s a threat — in my view — a threat to our core values. And folks, the fact of the matter is, four years of Donald Trump will be viewed as an aberration in American history. But eight years? Eight years will fundamentally change who we are as a nation and how we’re viewed around the world.”
If Trump is granted another term in the White House, Biden said, “I think there’s a genuine threat to American democracy.”
The former vice president raised his voice and gave some of his most animated remarks while describing in Mount Pleasant the conversations “good, decent people” have at their kitchen tables about unaffordable health care and education costs.
“That’s real life. That’s how ordinary people, good, decent Americans — the conversations they have. He has no notion of that happening, none. None.”
Ryan Drew, president of the Des Moines/Henry County Labor Council, introducing Biden on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, described him as a candidate with a “legacy of labor.”
“He’s willing to fight for workers that are getting shortchanged and to stand up for the strong wages and benefits that they earned every day,” said Drew.
by Elizabeth Meyer