Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign has long been about “restoring the soul of the nation.” The phrase is prominently displayed at his campaign events during the final stage of the Iowa caucuses as the “Soul of the Nation” bus tour takes him to 20 cities and 17 counties.
Now, with caucuses the day after tomorrow, Biden, his surrogates and supporters are putting a finer point on the message that has guided his campaign all along.
“Our current president knows that folks around this country know who Joe Biden is,” said Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer, as she introduced the former vice president Friday morning in downtown Burlington. “[Trump] knows that he can’t compete with family values — the character, the dignity that Joe Biden has brought to public service his entire career. It is why we desperately need him at the top of that ticket.”
It’s a values argument, a comparison of character between Biden and President Donald Trump.
When Finkenauer introduces Biden, she tells the audience they both were elected to Congress at 29. Election to federal office at such a young age was an “honor,” Finkenauer said, but it came with a mountain of pressure. To remember that Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate at 29 and sworn into office in a hospital room, following the death of his first wife and one-year-old daughter, speaks to who he is and how greatly he values public service, Finkenauer said.
“That value, that character, that is what Donald Trump is terrified of,” she said.
His ability to connect with Americans who also have experienced great tragedy in their life attributes to some of his support, but electability also is a significant factor, one his surrogates aren’t afraid to bring up as a reason to caucus for him on Monday.
Standing in the back of the room at Biden’s event in Burlington was a local man holding a sign that read: “I’m a Republican for Biden — Where has my party gone?”
“Character is on the ballot,” Biden said. “I do not believe we’re the dark, angry nation that Donald Trump tweets about at 2:00 in the morning.”
Kathy Scharmer, of Cedar Rapids, said during an event in Cedar Rapids on Saturday she’s going to caucus for Biden because she feels like he’s the one who will help the country settle down.
“The thing that I think everybody needs to do is just kind of calm down, and I think he’s the one who’s going to help everyone calm down a little because things are just so messy all of the time,” Scharmer said. “We need a break from it.”
Karen Lewis, also of Cedar Rapids, hasn’t decided who she’s caucusing for yet, though she said Biden is on her short list because she’s looking for someone who can unite the country.
“I’m looking for someone who will be electable nationally and who is more middle and not on the far left, and that’s why I’m here today,” Lewis said. “I’m going to hear from Amy [Klobuchar] tomorrow and hopefully on Monday we’ll have a definitive answer.”
When asked whether she is scared to make up her mind because she fears Trump will win again, Lewis said, “Yep. Absolutely.”
She said the country needs someone who can stand up to “the bullying and the bad-mouthing that the current president leads with, but also someone who is in the middle to really unify people from both parties to choose the right course for the United States.”
Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa and President Barack Obama’s secretary of agriculture, told caucus-goers to consider a question: “Which candidate from our party today has the best chance of winning? Who is most likely to be elected?”
“So, here’s what I do at night,” he said. “I don’t know what you folks do at night, but every night I check the polls.”
Not national polls, Vilsack said, state polls in competitive places like Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.
“There is no candidate in this race that does better against Donald Trump in every single one of those states than Joe Biden,” Vilsack said, at the Quality Inn & Suites in Fort Madison. “And do you know what happens when you win [those states]? You know what happens? They swear you in as president of the United States, that’s what happens.”
Vilsack also pointed to the personal reasons he supports Biden, reflecting on the 2017 death of his young granddaughter, and how Biden took the time to ask Jess Vilsack how he was coping with the loss of his daughter.
“Joe stopped him, looked him in the eye and said no, no, no; I want to know how you are doing ’cause you and I are part of a fraternity that we didn’t choose to be a part of,” Vilsack recalled.
The Vilsacks broke off for a while on Saturday and campaigned with Dr. Jill Biden, but more of the Vice President’s friends, including the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Harold Schaitberger, and former Secretary of State John Kerry joined him on his bus.
Schaitberger said Biden understands the country has to unite and stand together in order to move forward.
“Joe Biden will enhance the political discourse that our country so desperately needs right now,” Schaitberger said. “He’ll heal the deep divide that has pitted so many Americans against each other.”
By Elizabeth Meyer and Paige Godden