Joe Biden was in the cross-hairs on Wednesday night. With the exception of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who instead directed her fire at Sen. Kamala Harris, candidates who wanted to rip on one another largely aimed their sights at the former Vice President.
Vice President Biden got in a handful of heated exchanges throughout the night. Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Jay Inslee all went directly at Biden on his record in the Senate and as Vice President, statements he made in the past and his work on issues like racial and gender inequities.
Iowans at the Madison County debate watch party had mixed feelings about the candidates going after his long-standing record, but they also varied on their reactions to Biden’s second debate performance overall.
“I think Biden did better than the first debate, but I think it’s tough,” Molly Clause said, who lives outside Winterset. “I’m not super comfortable that the other candidates are bringing stuff up that happened so long ago. I mean, the stuff Gillibrand brought up had to have happened in like the 70s.”
The issue that Gillibrand was criticizing Biden for was an op-ed he wrote in 1981 about a bill on day care costs.
“I thought he held his ground and just did fine with a lot of the attacks on stuff that happened a long time ago,” explained Richard John McLaughlan, who lives between Cumming and West Des Moines. “I can’t think of anything that he didn’t handle well, but I don’t think there was anyone on the stage tonight who wouldn’t make a good president.”
While he disagreed about the quality of Biden’s performance, he did share the sentiment that coming after Biden for statements he made multiple decades ago is unfair.
“No, it’s not fair [to Biden], but what else are they going to do?” McLaughlin asked. “That’s why people with little or no record get elected, there’s not as much there to go after.”
Some of the candidates went after Biden for policies that occurred during the Obama Administration. Booker noted that Biden “can’t have it both ways,” referring to Biden’s tendency to name-drop Obama when it’s beneficial to his credibility, but deflect blame and say he didn’t have as much influence when taking criticism.
“I don’t think [Biden] did super well, but he has to play some of this stuff close to the chest because he was Vice President,” said Randall Parkin, a retiree from Winterset. “I do think it’s kind of stupid [to go after him for the immigration stuff]. It was a different time. They went after companies hiring immigrants. They didn’t tear families apart like Trump is doing now.”
Other viewers thought his plans were dated.
“He’s not my first choice … or my 4th or 5th choice,” said Elizabeth Hoenig, also from Winterset. “I don’t think he’s doing great, I’d rather see someone more progressive, but I’ll support him if he gets the nod.”
Hoenig’s daughter, Alex, who is still slightly under the voting age, was also in attendance to watch the debate. She thought his ideas on climate change, her biggest concern, were uncreative.
“Biden talked about adding electric charging stations,” Hoenig said. “We already have that technology. I’d rather hear talk about developing more technology and pushing forward, which other candidates did.”
And while some weren’t impressed with his performance on stage during the second round of debates, others were.
Hoenig did think it was fair to look at his record, but she added that she thinks, “the infighting isn’t productive. I’d rather be focusing on the finish line.”
Regardless of the “fairness” of it all, McLaughlan noted that some viewers will be into the attacks on Biden.
“Kamala Harris was a prosecutor, and she talked like it, prosecuting everyone else,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s fair, but I think people will like it. But she has to know it goes both ways.”
by Josh Cook
Photo by Julie Fleming