Biden looks to rural Iowa to catch fast-rising Buttigieg
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[December 09, 2019]
By Trevor Hunnicutt and James Oliphant
STORM LAKE/OELWEIN, Iowa (Reuters) - As Joe
Biden on Saturday finished an eight-day bus tour through the crucial
early nominating state of Iowa, one realization loomed large: His
biggest challenge to clinching the Democratic presidential nomination
may be coming from Pete Buttigieg, a Midwest mayor less than half his
Leading in national polls among Democrats but trailing in Iowa, where
progressive Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have won over
more liberal, urban and younger Iowans with their fight-the-power
messages, Biden, 77, is targeting the state's older, moderate and rural
But Buttigieg, 37, is making inroads with those same people, interviews
with Iowa Democrats and polling data showed. He has carved out a lead in
Iowa, with Sanders, Warren and Biden jockeying for second place,
according to recent statewide polls.
In his most aggressive campaigning yet in the Midwestern state, Biden,
the former vice president, traveled from small town to small town over
the past week with a pitch that the United States needs to return to
"You were raised to treat people with respect. You were raised to get up
if an older person came along and offer the seat. We're kind of losing
all that," he told a 150-strong crowd in Storm Lake, many of them
Retired teacher Marilyn Schmitt, 68, who came out to see Biden, also
heard similar values expressed by Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of
South Bend, Indiana, who swung by her town five days earlier.
Schmitt said Biden had “given us a lot to think about” but that she was
not ready to decide between the two in the race for the party's
nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in next year's
Biden's campaign believes a strong showing in Iowa - which will hold the
first-in-the-nation nominating caucus and can have an outsized role in
helping pick presidential nominees - will buoy his candidacy until more
diverse states, such as South Carolina, vote. Biden dominates in polling
among African-Americans, who make up a quarter of Democratic primary
A Monmouth University poll last month showed Biden and Buttigieg tied
among moderates and conservatives likely to show up to the Iowa
Democratic caucus on Feb. 3, with 26% support apiece. Among rural
Iowans, Buttigieg leads Biden, 21% to 19%, according to a Quinnipiac
University poll also conducted in Iowa last month.
Like Biden, Buttigieg is critical of the uncompromising liberalism of
Warren and Sanders and preaches old-school values that resonate with
older, rural voters. The U.S. Navy veteran often speaks of military
service, his Christian faith and love of country.
After attending a Buttigieg event in Denison, Iowa, in late November,
Daniel Gudahl, 64, said he still had not signed on to a candidate but
was happy to see Buttigieg building momentum.
He saw Biden as "too old" and believed Buttigieg’s Midwest roots and
moderate stance could help him in the caucus.
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Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former U.S. Vice
President Joe Biden speaks during his "No Malarkey!" campaign bus
tour event at the Ross Reid American Legion 9 in Oelwein, Iowa,
U.S., December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo
“You’ve got to bring center-left and center-right together in Iowa
to win. I think he might have that ability,” said Gudhal, who
manages a nature conservancy in Coon Rapids, Iowa.
Biden and Buttigieg both rolled out rural policy plans months ago
and talk about creating high-paying jobs and a future in
depopulating towns where children who leave for college often decide
to settle elsewhere.
After each event during the bus tour, Biden stayed to shake every
willing hand and take photographs. A field organizer would then
chase down those people and ask them to commit to "caucus for Joe."
Some did, but many kept their options open.
At one point in the tour, Biden shot back when asked about
Buttigieg's growing appeal - "He doesn't have the enthusiasm and the
moderates. Come on, guys."
But Biden conceded he had work to do with Iowa Democrats, most of
whom he said later were still undecided.
Unlike Biden, who is lagging in online fundraising and must often
travel the country to raise money, Buttigieg has turned his
fundraising prowess into an ad blitz and more personal trips than
any other Democratic front-runner, something Iowans value.
Seventeen percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus-goers told
Monmouth last month that they had seen Buttigieg in person, compared
with 15% for Warren, 14% for Sanders and 11% for Biden.
Biden was boosted last week by the endorsement of John Kerry, the
2004 Democratic nominee, who came from behind to win Iowa in 2004 -
and said Biden could follow his template.
“He ought to do what he’s doing. He’s got to go meet Iowa,” Kerry
said, campaigning with him in Iowa on Friday.
Barbara Ehlers, 65, a teacher from the town of Stanley that has a
population of about 125, walked out of Biden’s event in Oelwein
She also liked Buttigieg, as well as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of
Minnesota, another moderate who has been showing signs of strength
in the state. How will she decide among the three?
“Keep reading, keep thinking, keep talking to people."
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and James Oliphant in Iowa;
Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Denison, Iowa; Editing by
Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney)
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