DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa, a decade ago, humbled Joe Biden. Now it has a chance to redeem him.
His last presidential race ended abruptly in 2008 after he placed fifth in the state’s crucial Democratic caucuses, garnering less than 1% of the vote in the first contest of the primary season.
This week, the former vice president returned to Iowa for a four-day campaign swing, hoping to solidify his lead and recover from inconsistent performances in this summer’s presidential debates.
In a tribute to the state’s political importance, nearly all the major Democratic candidates are crisscrossing Iowa this weekend to attend events including the Iowa State Fair, a party fundraiser called the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, and a timely forum on gun control Saturday in Des Moines.
For Biden, Iowa presents a unique mix of risks and opportunities — and he faces more pressure than any candidate to come out on top.
A poll of Iowa Democrats released Thursday by Monmouth University — its first since the last round of debates — shows support for Biden holding steady at 28%, about the same as when Monmouth last polled Iowa in April.
But Biden’s margin over his rivals narrowed due to a big gain by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose support jumped from 7% in April to 19%, allowing her to surpass Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont for second place.
“Biden’s support is durable,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, but he said Biden’s rivals may have more room to grow. “It doesn’t look like Biden has the potential to surge in Iowa like someone like Elizabeth Warren.”
Biden, with his centrist political brand, faces a special challenge here: Iowa’s caucusgoers tend to be very liberal. They nearly delivered victory to Sanders in 2016.
What’s more, the state is overwhelmingly white, so it does not play to Biden’s strength among African American voters, who are a big part of his polling lead in national and other state polls.
Asked why he is doing better in Iowa this time than his failed effort in 2008, Biden points to his improved fundraising and a more robust campaign organization in the state.
“I can afford to do it now, “ he said Thursday at the Iowa State Fair, surrounded by a jostling scrum of reporters and cameramen who followed him around the annual festival of farm products, carnival rides and fried-foods-on-a-stick.
“I’ve been able to raise almost 300,000 contributors, who have allowed me to be able to compete ... . You’re going to see me put together a full-blown organization.”
Biden also holds a political asset that he didn’t have before — his eight years as vice president to Barack Obama. There are probably few places where Obama is personally more popular than in Iowa, where many Democrats still are proud that their caucuses delivered the surprise victory that began Obama’s successful White House run in 2008.
After some 2020 rivals in the second round of debates last month challenged Biden over certain Obama-era policies — on immigration, healthcare and trade policies that drew fire from progressives even during Obama’s presidency — Biden treated it as an attack on Obama himself. He warned of a political backlash for going after one of the Democrats’ most popular leaders.
A recent Biden fundraising email asked supporters to participate in a survey on the question: “What did you think of President Obama’s historic presidency?”
The Obama tie-in “is more helpful in Iowa than any other state,” said a senior Biden campaign official. “Iowans are very protective of the Obama legacy. They take credit for the Obama presidency. There is a special feeling here that plays to our advantage.”