Joe Biden AWOL in Iowa, his 2008 nemesis, but campaign planning massive ground game – Washington Examiner

DES MOINES, Iowa — Joe Biden has largely been AWOL in Iowa, even skipping a cattle call event in June that included most of the other Democratic presidential primary candidates because he said he wanted to attend his granddaughter’s graduation.

But he is heading back to the state after a three-week absence, and his campaign is quietly building an organization it hopes will more than make up for past omissions.

Biden, due in the state for two days of campaigning beginning Wednesday, was preceded by his wife Jill, who landed Friday. The Bidens’ full-court press during the festive July Fourth holiday amid criticism the 76-year-old is not spending enough time with voters and lacks the stamina to compete with a crowded field of mostly younger contenders who have crisscrossed the state for months.

Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign shipwrecked in the Iowa caucuses, where he attracted under 1% of the vote, ending up in fifth place, behind Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson. In the 1988 campaign, he didn’t even make it to Iowa, dropping out after being caught plagiarizing speeches and law school work.

But Biden’s two terms as vice president under President Barack Obama, a beloved figure among Iowa Democrats, have given made the three-time candidate an early front-runner with potentially much broader appeal and a belief he can win the caucuses, the first contest on the primary calendar.

“He starts ahead and starts with a good base,” said Tom Miller, a Democrat who has served as Iowa attorney general for more than two decades and endorsed one of Biden’s rivals, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. “But there’s nothing given here, there’s nothing automatic, so even though he’s in a good position, he has to go out and win it.”

[Related: ‘I don’t think he looks well': Biden’s shaky debate leaves Iowa supporters nervous]

The Biden campaign has been assembling what it believes might grow to be the largest voter turnout operation of the caucuses. The campaign has 50 people on the payroll, with another wave of hires coming aboard in July. Overseen by Jake Braun, an Obama campaign veteran, Biden campaign strategy calls for installing captains in all 1,677 voting precincts.

Braun’s plan calls for each precinct captain to oversee a staff of 10 “super volunteers” dedicated to voter contact. The Biden campaign declined to disclose figures on planned campaign headquarters throughout the state, but the blueprint Braun is implementing should result in enough offices so that no staffer or volunteer has to travel farther than about 45 minutes to reach one.

The Biden campaign is investing heavily in data analytics, believing President Trump has scrambled political affiliations — leaving some traditional Democrats unavailable but making some longtime Republicans gettable. Overall, the campaign believes Biden could expand the universe of caucusgoers because he has wider appeal than most Democrats.

“Nothing is being taken for granted,” said Teri Hawks Goodmann, who is helping the Biden campaign organize and is the assistant city manager of Dubuque, Iowa.

Biden has led in most polls nationally and in the key early primary states, though his near-disastrous debate performance could stall that early momentum.

Democrats often gravitate toward youthful or outsider candidates. Political analysts in Iowa say Biden could be vulnerable to a left-wing Democrat who could energize younger, progressive voters and other liberals preferring fresh leadership.

But they emphasize the former vice president could break the mold. Democrats in Iowa, strategic about their choice, realize the enthusiasm for Trump in key swing states. They could choose Biden because he has exhibited more strength with swing voters, independents, and soft Republicans.

Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor Iowa State University, said older voters tend to turn out in greater numbers, and they are not necessarily clamoring for the sort of transformative presidency being pitched by other top tier candidates.

“There really is no other Democrat occupying this space,” Schmidt said. “He just needs to show that he cares.”

In interviews with Democratic voters in Des Moines, the state’s major population center and a blue stronghold, praise for Biden’s ability to forge personal connections and show he cares was a constant theme. Even Democrats unsure because of his age described him as a masterful retail campaigner.

“I know Joe’s heart,” said John Olsen, 49, a substitute teacher who supports Biden. “He makes you feel like a million bucks anytime you meet him.”

“I think he’s authentic as he can be,” added Nancy Bobo, 66, a retired nonprofit executive and veteran activist who is deciding between Biden and Cory Booker and hosted debate watch parties for both campaigns at her home. “That’s why he has these gaffes, because he’s not thinking all of the time, ‘What’s the political answer?’”

Voters value authenticity over gimmicky political-speak. But Biden’s riffing is problematic. In regaling campaign contributors about his effectiveness during decades in the Senate, he has bragged about cutting deals with colleagues who supported racist policies.

Biden apparently thought he was showing his ability to get things done, even under difficult political circumstances. To many Democrats, his comments were offensive — proof that Biden can be tone deaf and out of touch after nearly 50 years in politics.

“Biden has past issues that will drag him down,” said Sheryl Tenikat, 71, an undecided voter who opposes the former vice president. “I’m very concerned about electability.”

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