Former VP makes final stop before caucuses
As Iowa heads to the finish line after a long caucus season — what may be the beginning of the end for some presidential candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden and one of his premier endorsers doubled down on foreign policy as a necessary distinction that sets him apart from a now slightly smaller field.
After the Trump administration’s controversial decision to kill senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a Jan. 2 Baghdad drone strike, that qualification on the world stage may stand out more in caucusgoers’ minds with less than two weeks to go.
And though his stump speech has not changed much since his Halloween visit to Fort Dodge, an emphasis from endorsers like former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack has honed in on America’s standing on the world stage.
“There’s no time to get up to speed,” she said of America’s next potential leader, telling The Messenger that someone who understands nuance is needed in the Oval Office.
“We all understand domestic policy better than we understand foreign policy, which is why we talk about it more,” she said. “Which is why you need an expert.”
She said Biden is a leader on foreign policy not just because of knowledge, but because of the authentic relationships he has forged with leaders around the world, something that was no doubt strengthened during his tenure as vice president.
“They’re not just transactional relationships,” she said. “When you have relationships … you’re more willing to talk, to compromise.”
“We’re on our own,” Biden said, telling the crowd that American allies are beside themselves after a move that led NATO to make a moral equivalence between the United States and Iran.
In a one-on-one interview with The Messenger, Biden said that his proudest accomplishment so far on the long campaign trail is how he has brought different people and groups together — from high-profile endorsements to overwhelming support among Democrats in the African-American and rural communities.
And though many caucusgoers have expressed weariness in various polls about the number of candidates to sift through, Biden, still a front-runner alongside several others in recent polls, said he truly appreciates the effort after decades of visiting Iowa. As with his last chat with The Messenger, he accepts that Iowa takes a long time to truly make up its mind.
“For all the criticism it gets about not being representative, (Iowa) really is an amazing state in the sense it’s one of the few states I know that look beyond their state interest,” he said. “They have the starting gun in their hand.”
As one of the demographically whiter states in the nation, Iowa has come under broad criticism from the party for being less representative of the growing diversity reflected more prominently in other states. The former vice president, who has acknowledged on the record that the Democratic Party may take minorities for granted, said the party needs to let them know they still matter.
“(Democrats) have to be specific about understanding what their dilemma is, how there’s still systemic racism in this country, and how we’re going to work on it,” he said.
Biden continues to hold a substantial advantage among his fellow candidates in support from black Democrats nationally. A Washington Post-Ipsos Knowledge Panel shows that he holds 48% support in that demographic. The next closest candidate was Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, at 20%.
Despite their differences and a recent conflict in which Biden accused Sanders’ campaign of doctoring a video to misrepresent his record on Social Security, Biden refused the opportunity to take jabs at fellow candidates.
“I’m not running against them; I’m running against Trump,” he said. “I’ve avoided going after anyone in this campaign.”
He remains vigilant of the concern that two within a party attacking each other only leaves room for a third party to surge to the top, potentially helping Trump.
“It’s a loser strategy,” Biden said.
And though the crowd at Iowa Central Community College Tuesday night seemed slightly smaller and less enthusiastic than the crowd that packed the Opera House at the Fort Museum and Village almost three months ago — there were no lines from Biden that received notable applause Tuesday night — the campaign managed to garner at least a few more commitments from caucusgoers.
“He’s inherently qualified,” said Heather Tjernagel, a Humboldt social worker. “I’ve always liked Joe.”
She signed the card from persistent campaign workers at the door because she said Biden “knows the job,” and beating Trump is a top priority.
“He’s ready to go,” said Kathy Lucero, of Fort Dodge, who also committed to caucus for Biden.
Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were second choices for them, but they remained skeptical that either one could muster enough support to meet the threshold needed for viability on Feb. 3.
“Part of what you have to do in Iowa is demonstrate you really want their vote,” Biden said.
Only time will tell whether he met that requirement.