Biden decision catches Iowans by surprise

Vice+President+Joe+Biden+shakes+hands+with+a+woman+after+a+speech+inside+a+Drake+University+auditorium+on+Feb.+12%2C+2015.+Biden%2C+who+has+been+pegged+as+a+potential+2016+presidential+candidate+for+the+Democratic+ticket%2C+touted+several+national+successes+under+the+two-term+Obama+administration.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FSergio+Flores%29
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Biden decision catches Iowans by surprise

Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with a woman after a speech inside a Drake University auditorium on Feb. 12, 2015. Biden, who has been pegged as a potential 2016 presidential candidate for the Democratic ticket, touted several national successes under the two-term Obama administration. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with a woman after a speech inside a Drake University auditorium on Feb. 12, 2015. Biden, who has been pegged as a potential 2016 presidential candidate for the Democratic ticket, touted several national successes under the two-term Obama administration. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

The Daily Iowan

Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with a woman after a speech inside a Drake University auditorium on Feb. 12, 2015. Biden, who has been pegged as a potential 2016 presidential candidate for the Democratic ticket, touted several national successes under the two-term Obama administration. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

The Daily Iowan

The Daily Iowan

Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with a woman after a speech inside a Drake University auditorium on Feb. 12, 2015. Biden, who has been pegged as a potential 2016 presidential candidate for the Democratic ticket, touted several national successes under the two-term Obama administration. (The Daily Iowan/Sergio Flores)

Quentin Misiag, [email protected]

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When Lisa Heddens’s son, Paul, became ill from a strain of the H1N1 flu virus in 2010, the Democratic lawmaker from Ames found herself overcome with emotion.

In part, she was wrestling with how to properly to care for Paul, her younger of two children, who lives with an intellectual disability. Overnight, her family became but a statistical piece in a greater worldwide pandemic of a seasonal flu that had claimed the lives of thousands of young people.

But almost as quickly as the flu developed, so too did a source of solace and stability.

It all came from one phone call.

It was not from Paul Heddens’s doctor, classmates or extended family.

The call came from none other than Vice President Joe Biden.

And six years earlier, in 2004, when Nick Bisignano was killed in a 90-mph car crash while driving drunk after a Des Moines house party, the young teenager’s parents, including state Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, received a similar call.

A call from Biden.

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It was not a last-ditch ring to whip together fundraising dollars or a buzz to scoop together Iowa Democratic endorsements.

Rather, it was a simple checkup call to assure the family — facing immense tragedy — that they were going to be OK.

“Grief is a very unpredictable thing, day to day,” Bisignano said in an interview Wednesday, shortly after President Obama’s right-hand man put all rumors of a third presidential run to rest.

After months of hand-wringing, closed-door deliberations, and mourning the loss of his son, Beau Biden, the former Delaware lawmaker shut the door Wednesday on running for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

His deep ties to Iowa can be traced back to the lives of the Heddens’s, Bisignano’s, and dozens of others.

RELATED: Biden forgoes presidential run

The VP’s decision to not pursue a complicated, three-month organizing effort ahead of the scheduled start date for the 2016 Iowa caucuses, is viewed by some pundits and political operatives as a win for Hillary Clinton and liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

“I’ve said all along what I’ve said time and again to others — that it may very well be that that process, by the time we get through it, closes the window on mounting a realistic campaign for president, that it might close,” Biden said, flanked on his right and left by President Obama and his wife, Jill Biden, in the White House Rose Garden. “I’ve concluded that it has closed.”

For months, Biden has been firm in his public comments to the media: The most pressing factor in a decision either way would be whether he and his family were ready to take on the roller coaster of emotions that come with a national campaign.

News of Biden’s decision quickly spread in the nation’s first-in-the-presidential nominating state Wednesday.

Loyal backers found themselves both left in a state of mourning and flux, unsure as to whom they will support in a matter of months, dozens of interviews with The Daily Iowan showed.

Many who spoke with the DI squashed any desire to talk presidential politics, even as surrogates with the five Democratic campaigns had started to flag them down, hoping they would jump ship to their Iowa operations.

For them, Biden was the saving grace necessary in the state to pull together a growing group of fragmented of Democrats opposed to Clinton and uncomfortable with supporting Sanders, a self-described democratic-socialist.

“For Joe not running, I felt like I’ve put everything into this one,” Bisignano said, noting that Biden’s best opportunity to successfully mount a national campaign against the likes of Clinton was this cycle. “We hoped, and we waited and then the tragedy of his son. We saw him get back up again.

“In talking to people, even though there wasn’t a campaign, there was a campaign.”

An NBC News/Marist poll released in September found Biden with a higher favorability rating among Iowa Democrats than Clinton. Biden’s 57 percent favorability rating trumped Clinton’s 40 percent favorability, in the poll conducted Aug. 26-Sept. 2. The poll had a 3.1 percentage point margin of error for registered voters and a 5.3 percentage point margin of error for potential Democratic caucus-goers.

Earlier last month, Bisignano had signed on as a key committee member with the national Draft Biden super PAC.

He was one of four early power players who committed to caucusing for Biden, a man known as one of Washington’s most skilled retail politicians and a leader who many say has stuck to his humble roots, even as his political stock has risen.

Wednesday’s decision by Biden signaled both good and incredibly painful timing for state Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames.

The Harvard alumnus and associate professor of economics at Iowa State University met Biden for the first time eight years ago.

While Biden was en route to Des Moines for a campaign stop, Quirmbach received a call from the then-presidential candidate’s Iowa staff.

They wondered if the two could meet over coffee for a half an hour.

“You can’t say no to that,” Quirmbach said, recalling jumping at the opportunity to meet Biden at the Café in Ames.

Shortly after, in Dec. 2007, Biden returned, eager to help Quirmbach raise funds for a local election.

“He was willing to come in and help out a local candidate even though I wasn’t ready to endorse him yet,” he said. “It was just a fascinating experience for me.”

With the potential for a White House bid behind him this cycle, Biden pledged Wednesday to spend the remaining 15 months as vice president pursuing cancer research, pushing equal pay for equal work, bolstering the nation’s immigration reform, and accelerating LGBTQ rights.

As Iowa friends and supporters read and watched his decision, their hearts and minds circulated back to the memories they have shared with the vice president, not to the missed opportunity that some see the decision as.

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“At his residence, he sees me and says, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Lisa, you came out here,’ ” said Lisa Heddens, the Ames lawmaker, in recalling being one of several hundred in attendance at Biden and Obama’s 2012 inauguration celebration from Biden’s Washington home.

“The vice president didn’t have to stay in touch with me over the past eight years. But he has. And it’s just how he is.”

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