Looking back at Joe Biden in Iowa ahead of his visit

As Joe Biden begins campaigning in Iowa, Iowa political leaders and experts weigh in on his strengths and challenges.


Brett Slezak/The Daily Iowan

Then-Delaware senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden shakes hands with Cedar Rapids resident Leni Stastny on Sunday, May 6, 2007. Biden was in Cedar Rapids that Sunday to speak about his campaign platforms and answer questions.

After announcing his presidential candidacy April 25, former Vice President Joe Biden hopes to make his mark in Iowa.  

The state is familiar campaigning ground for Biden. Over decades in national politics as a senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009, as vice president from 2009 to 2017, and as a presidential candidate in 1988 and 2008, Biden has made numerous stops in Iowa.

“He has cultivated over the years the loyalty and affection of many rank-and-file Iowa Democrats,” former Iowa political columnist David Yepsen said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporters following the Cedar Rapids Early Vote Rally at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, October 30, 2018. The event featured remarks from Iowa Democratic Candidate for Governor Fred Hubbell, Iowa First Congressional District candidate Abby Finkenauer, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden led the Des Moines Register’s first Iowa presidential poll in March, with 27 percent of  responders choosing him as their first choice. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., came in second at 25 percent.

Fame has grown with Biden throughout his nearly 50 years as a U.S. politician. University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Cary Covington said Biden’s name recognition likely accounts for his early lead in polling.

Yepsen said Biden’s biggest potential downfall in the 2020 race could be the high expectations that correspond with his current role as a front-runner.

“He’s expected to win — he has led in the polls. Anything short of that is considered a defeat,” Yepsen said. “He immediately becomes a target for other Democrats, and the scrutiny on him will be intense. He has shown a propensity to say and do goofy things at times, and some of that is just Joe Biden, but his scrutiny will be quite high.”

Robin Svec/The Daily Iowan
Deleware senator Joe Biden moves through the audience in the Richey Ballroom of the Iowa Memorial Union following a campaign stop at the Iowa City Public Library on Dec. 3, 2007. Biden, speaking to a crowd consisting mostly of young voters, emphasized the importance of voter participation and empowerment in the political process.

Other 2020 Democrats fired off campaign emails with “Biden” in the subject line after Biden announced. The Sanders campaign sent a fundraising email asking supporters to donate $3 after Biden’s campaign raised more money, from fewer donors than had the Sanders campaign. The campaign of Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote, “The truth is [Biden’s candidacy] poses a real challenge for an underdog campaign like ours.”

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., sent similar emails acknowledging Biden’s fundraising.

In a party that aims to beat President Trump, Biden’s age and extensive government experience could also appeal to Democrats who seek maturity in the White House, Yepsen said.

RELATED: Joe Biden in Cedar Rapids: Leaders need to ‘set the tone and dial down the temperature’

Former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky said she has heard that Biden will soon be ready to announce his Iowa campaign staff.

As a former vice president, she thinks Biden is held in high regard in the Democratic Party. However, he will have to separate himself from the other 19 presidential candidates, she said.

“Biden is a beloved vice president and has done a lot of stuff,” Dvorsky said. “But he’s been around for 50 years, so people have got questions about his record, and he will be asked tough questions just like all the rest of the [candidates].”

Melanie Patterson/The Daily Iowan
Senator Biden listens to an introduction of Congressional hopeful Dave Loebsack on Sept 23, 2006 in a private home in Cedar Rapids while relaxing next to Ansley O’Brien and backed by democratic supporters.

Criticism has arisen over Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony about sexual harassment during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Thomas Clarence. Biden led the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings, in which Hill told the New York Times recently that Biden could have called other women to testify as corroborating witnesses during the hearings.

Biden made his first visit to Iowa as a 2020 contender on Tuesday  in Cedar Rapids, where he touted his campaign goals and highlighted working-class issues.

RELATED: Iowa Caucuses Candidate Tracker

“We’ve got to reconstruct the backbone of America,” he said in his Cedar Rapids speech Tuesday. “The backbone of America is hard working, middle-class Iowans and Americans. “

Biden will hold a rally today at Big Grove Brewery from 12:15 to 1:30 p.m.

Linn County Democratic Chair Bret Nilles said he suspects Biden’s Iowa rallies will be examined closely.

“I think with his name recognition, he’ll initially start out well,” he said. “We’ll see how many people respond to his message through his first visits to Iowa.”