January 07, 2020

Biden Makes a Surge in Iowa After Early Stumbles Left Him Behind
(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has energized his once-sagging operation in Iowa and is making a late surge from behind, yet a crowded field still leaves the contest in the crucial state wide open.Democrats say there are still a sizable number of voters in the party’s first nominating contest who remain undecided or not firmly committed. The candidates’ closing arguments between now and the Feb. 3 caucuses could make all the difference.Biden, the national front-runner, and the other top three candidates — Pete Buttigieg, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — are bunched at the top of the polls.Warren, who entered the fall as the clear front-runner, has seen her momentum stall while Buttigieg rose. Sanders, who has consistently polled in the top tier, has focused his campaign’s effort on trying to expand his voter base, and Iowa Democrats say a historically large caucus turnout could bode well for him.“There’s no clarity, that’s for sure,” said J.D. Scholten, a Democrat looking to unseat Republican U.S. Representative Steve King in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District.Scholten, who narrowly lost to King in the heavily Republican district in 2018 and has not endorsed a presidential candidate, said a lot of voters he’s met have narrowed down their list, but have yet to commit.After a strong debate performance last month in Los Angeles, Senator Amy Klobuchar has also seen her stock rise, and her focus on rural Iowa, including the parts that border her home state of Minnesota could position her for a strong finish.Biden’s fortunes started to change late last year.He had promised Iowans that they’d be sick of seeing him, but instead they largely noticed his absence. He spent less time in the state than other top-polling candidates through September and October – generally spending parts of one or two days at only one or two events, leaving little time for lengthy meet-and-greets on rope lines or at coffee shops.His team’s operations were getting low marks, too, with many party insiders across the state saying they saw its efforts as decidedly anemic.“I’d be surprised if Biden wins,” said Bret Nilles, chairman of the Linn County Democratic Party. “But that could change in a month.”Biden aides point to his eight-day, 18-county bus tour in late fall as the turning point. He traveled across northern Iowa, stopping in small towns that few major candidates visit. He showed greater dedication to the state – though he did make quick trips out of state to raise money in New York and Chicago – and hasn’t stopped since. He spent 11 days in Iowa in December, more than any other candidate, and spent the first days of January there.“It’s safe to say that we definitely feel that things are moving in the right direction here,” deputy campaign manager Pete Kavanaugh said in an interview in Cedar Rapids. “We’re playing here hard. He’s going to be here a lot in January. We’ve continued to staff up and build up the organization.”Biden’s campaign expects that it will have spent $4 million on paid media across digital, broadcast and cable television and social media between Nov. 1 and Feb. 3.Kavanaugh’s own role in Iowa is evidence of just how seriously the campaign is taking the state. Though he’s a veteran of multiple presidential cycles in New Hampshire, he and other senior campaign staff are spending more time there while also overseeing Biden’s efforts in other states.Biden has also appealed to Iowans’ pride in often choosing the ultimate Democratic nominee. “You look beyond not just what it is in Iowa that you want but you look at what is needed in order to be able to win,” he said last week in Independence.The new tactics have drawn in key Democratic leaders in the state, who can provide crucial organizing support and indicate confidence in Biden’s operation. He snagged the endorsement of Representative Abby Finkenauer, one of the youngest members of Congress who flipped a Republican-held seat in the 2018 midterm elections. And others in the Iowa Democratic establishment have started to coalesce around Biden.The escalating tensions with Iran after a U.S. strike last week killed General Qassem Soleimani has also reshuffled the dynamic of the race, with the top candidates trying to assert themselves as the best potential commander in chief. Biden, who has made foreign policy a staple of his career and candidacy, has urged voters to elect someone prepared to lead on the world stage.Sanders, meanwhile, has touted his opposition to the Iraq war and military spending. Buttigieg has emphasized his service as a Naval intelligence officer and his deployment to Afghanistan, saying he understands the personal toll of foreign policy decisions.Des Moines resident Jill Padgett, 32, didn’t caucus in 2016 but plans to do so in February because “this is the one I care the most about.” She’s torn between Biden and Warren but said she feels herself edging closer to Biden.A mother of two daughters, Padgett said she wants to see a woman become president and likes Warren’s big ideas. But she thinks she’ll ultimately go with Biden because “he can unify the nation and is a safe candidate in my mind.”Shaping the NarrativeWith fewer than 50 delegates up for grabs in the state, however, the results from the Iowa caucuses will do more to shape the narrative around the campaign than effect the overall number of delegates needed to secure the nomination.For Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, a top finish in the state is crucial to their candidacies, and finishing below the top three could seriously damage their campaigns. Biden and Sanders could burnish their electability arguments by winning the caucuses, but Biden’s deep support in South Carolina and Sanders’ massive financial haul will give them more leeway after the caucuses.“It’s kind of historically unique to have four candidates bunched up” at the top of the polls, Kavanaugh said. “I don’t think our plans will change based on the daily fluidity of the polls.”To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Epstein in Independence, Iowa at jepstein32@bloomberg.net;Tyler Pager in Nashua, New Hampshire at tpager1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, John HarneyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
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